Speaking to a packed room of enthusiastic Harvard students and affiliates, including members of the Harvard baseball team, Baseball Hall of Famer and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez shared lessons from his career on Tuesday.
Professor of Government Michael Sandel facilitated the conversation, held in Sever Hall. It began with Martinez recounting how his impoverished childhood in the Dominican Republic fostered his competitiveness on the field.
“Ever since I started, I felt like I had no space to fail,” he said. “That’s the kind of challenge you face when you come from a low-income family.”
Retracing his journey from the Dominican Republic to Major League Baseball, Martinez said that much of his motivation to become a better player stemmed from watching his parents struggle to raise six kids.
“It was necessity that took me there, it was the passion for what I did, it was trying to never fail for my family,” he said. “The only way out was through baseball.”
In response to Sandel’s observation that he always seemed to exude palpable joy on the field, Martinez attributed his positive attitude to his passion for the game.
“The way I approach every game is that there is no game tomorrow,” he said. “Having those games where I don’t think I’ll pitch ever again gave me so much joy.”
When the conversation shifted to the dimmer moments of his career, Martinez offered his insight on dealing with defeats both on and off the field. Speaking directly to athletes in the audience, he said, “Keep on fighting, keep on fighting, keep on fighting. And when you did the best you could, don’t feel like you failed. There’s no failure.”
Turning to the broader audience, he added, “It’s the same thing in life.”
Martinez summed up his overall attitude toward baseball when responding to a question on steroid use in professional sports. “I can only explain it to you the way I did it: clean, fun, painful sometimes, but I didn’t want it any other way. I wanted to do it the hard way.”
Students reacted positively to Martinez’s message. “It was so inspiring to hear his story and to hear how passionate he’s been,” Sara K. Rosenburg ’16 said. “He really has a lot of wisdom about things that don’t just apply to baseball.”
S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, said that Martinez is not only a sports hero but also a role model for all Harvard students.
“Everything he said included remarks that are good principles for our students to follow,” Counter said. “The principles of following your beliefs, working very hard at what you do, maintaining the values your family gave you—all of that means something to us.”