An early arrival, Pedro tries on shoe

At Mets camp early, Pedro tries custom shoe

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A large brown truck rolled into the Minor League side of the Mets' Spring Training complex at 9:40 a.m. on Wednesday -- a rather mundane occurrence. A sense of anticipation quickly developed, though, when someone suggested that, at that moment, UPS might have served as the monogram for "Ultimate Pedro Shoe" or "uniquely produced spikes."

Then came those deflating words from a voice with delivery experience: "If it comes, it'll probably come Fed Ex."

By that point or shortly thereafter, the shoe that the Mets hope will give them a leg up on National League competition had been delivered to a different club office, and Pedro Martinez was no longer the most famous shoeless baseball player since Joe Jackson.

Now, the Mets' 2006 Spring Training season is about to get off on the right -- albeit delicate -- foot.

By late afternoon, Martinez, who arrived here on Tuesday, had slipped his right foot and problematic large toe into a baseball shoe specially designed for him, and he had played catch.

"One small step for Pedro, one giant step for the Mets," said Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson.

Perhaps "tentative" would be the more appropriate modifier in both cases, because the Mets' primary starting pitcher has made only modest progress, he is at least 10 days behind his own schedule, he barely has tested his toe and the long-awaited shoe still requires adjustment.

Just the same, Martinez said, "I'm going forward with what I have." Neither Martinez nor his employer could ask for more than that at this point.

Still, Martinez suspended his personal workout and throwing schedules 10 days ago. That time away has jeopardized his participating in the World Baseball Classic.

"[I'll play] if I'm healthy," Martinez said, addressing the WBC before auditioning the shoe. "If I'm not healthy, it's impossible."

Then, as if he realized the ominous tone of his words, he said, "As soon as I am healthy, I will join the Dominican team."

The Dominican team will be in place on March 2.

For now, because of the shoe, Martinez can concentrate on preparing for the season and, possibly, the WBC. He can forget about the delivery and work on ... well, his delivery.

Now he has the shoes; whether he has a solution for the problem that undermined his pitching the last two summers is another issue. Pitching strains a healthy foot.

The shoes -- manufactured by Nike in Taiwan and shipped to California, then to Oregon and finally to the Mets' office -- are not a pair. The right one is higher cut and more thickly padded than the left. It is conspicuously larger than its fraternal twin, though each is size 10 1/2 and designed for a man who normally wears a 9 1/2. It must be said, then, that if Martinez is unable to pitch at some point in 2006 -- for whatever reason -- his replacement will have even bigger shoes to fill.

The new shoes are different from any of those Martinez pulled from his stuffed duffle bag on Wednesday. His hair was combed differently than it had been on Tuesday, when he gave his first state of the metatarsal address. So Martinez was quite literally different from head to toe.

But in between his new zapatos and coiffed cabeza, Martinez wore a smile, an expression in marked contrast to the looks of concern that had flashed on his face earlier, as he discussed his situation and the bone on the inside of his push-off foot that looks like a bunion and hurts like a toothache when he steps improperly.

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"[The shoe] will allow me to do what I have to do," Martinez said after his brief catch with prospective reliever Mike Venafro.

Martinez intends to throw long-toss on Thursday and get more accustomed to his new foot apparel. The fit of the right shoe was modified on Wednesday by assistant trainer Mike Herbst, who had provided gel and silicone padding to create a more snug fit and greater support that goes with specially-designed orthodics. Martinez and the trainers will experiment to see what works. The pitcher's footing will be a work in progress probably all season and as long as Martinez pitches.

A need to reposition a cleat was already identified on Wednesday. The cleat in question, located essentially under the ball of the foot, will be moved closer to the heel. That will be done by the Nike engineers. Once the modifications are complete, a number of shoes will be produced.

Peterson, who reads body language and mother hens his pitchers, was pleased.

"I can only judge by what I see and what he says," the coach said. "But when he feels better, you feel better. It's up to him. He's got the keys to the jet. He wants to go forward -- that's good. Successful people make good decisions. That's a skill. Pedro has that skill."

Martinez's pitching skills are the ones that the Mets care about most. People familiar with the club's inner workings said as late as Wednesday afternoon that the pitcher's condition wasn't cause for overriding corporate consternation.

A greater concern existed about the delivery of the shoe, and the possibility that the shoe -- thought to be ready for delivery weeks ago -- would be the first Spring Training no-show.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.