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To a Writer Dying Young
SJ Sportswriter Pete Martini succumbs to cancer at the young age of 43
As a former English teacher, I have read dozens of stories, novels and poems about various subject matter. The 1898 poem “To an Athlete Dying Young,” contrasts the exploits of a nameless athlete of an unidentified sport, and how his exciting exploits were now being contrasted with the young man’s sudden transition to a “citizen of a quieter town,” i.e. a cemetery.
While Pete Martini hasn’t been a competitive athlete since his high school days at Sprague High School, his passion for prep sporting events has been evident in frequent posts about local athletes as a long time sports reporter for the Statesman Journal.
Some items were gimmicks—like “five takes on…” whatever the subject matter might happen to be. Others were up-close and personal biographical stretches on local athletes—providing insight into what makes he or she “tick.”
Pete and I were not “close” friends. He was twenty years my junior—a 1998 graduate of Sprague High, while I got my diploma—also from Sprague— in 1978. In addition to our prep alma mater, we also shared a passion for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.
Pete got into the Niners during the start of the huge Super Bowl run under Coach Bill Walsh, along with stars Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young. I started even younger, with the likes of QB John Brodie, RB Vic Washington, and WR Gene Washington, etc. Even though we were separated by almost an entire generation, our shared sports experiences also brought Pete and I together, and it was a good relationship.
I enjoyed reading Martini’s work while I prepared to broadcast prep contests on the radio. Although I had interviewed many of Pete’s predecessors on-the-air for playoff previews, I hadn’t gotten around to him. I blame it on the covid-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021.
There was a parade of friends scheduled to drive past Pete’s south Salem house this past Saturday as a show of support. But he died on Tuesday, and the event was promptly canceled by Pete’s older sister, Kristin. She and Pete were very close as siblings. Blame that on Mom and Dad. Martini mother, Debra Martini, was one of my teaching mates at North Salem High School. She loved to talk about family events as they went on over the years. Mama Martini’s big smile and lilting laugh made her hard to miss. But Deb’s laughter was silenced just under a year ago when she died suddenly in November of 2022.
That loss of Mom made Pete’s battle against cancer even more difficult to handle. But Martini was ever resilient, and even more determined to defeat the cancer cells wracking is body. The start of a chemo treatment—the frustration of watching good news dissolve as the cancer rallied back from its battle with the chemo. Pete again voicing optimism about his future either on Twitter (now X) or in his update in the midst of a sports story.
Two-plus years ago, my venture into online writing began—making me a sort of rival to Pete—but not really. But I also felt closer to him as I struggled with crafting sentences, paragraphs and intriguing stories related to local sports.
Usually, the exchange of information during Pete’s cancer battle involved generic statements of support. “Hang in there, Pete!” “You’ve got this, Martini!” “Niner Strong!” and the like.
Pete and I got to know each other a couple of years earlier as we sat in the bleachers at local high schools while the Salem-Keizer team hosted another school from elsewhere in Oregon. We were both there to check out the latest edition of the local prep squads, while also getting a chance to simply chat about things like 49er football, the latest scuttlebutt about prep team development and just bad jokes of the generic kind.
Pete was a people person, and it showed as we chatted like a couple of dudes who knew sports and understood the passions of the other man. Real people—that was Pete Martini.
When I received word of Pete’s passing last week, I couldn’t open an attachment about it at first, but when it finally opened—the news caught me completely off guard.
Pete had died.
There were no words to adequately express the feelings of loss from a man who was just a casual friend. But it hurt, and quiet for a long time.
Pete Martini loved local sports and enjoyed sharing his passion in the stories he wrote for the Statesman Journal week after week. His 16 years at the SJ was a mixed bag of success as the newspaper and its owner, Gannett Publishing, shrank the newspaper’s foot print. Even operating as a solo act at times, Pete still managed to generate some excellent human-interest stories that kept him from falling into the trap of just reporting scores.
Pete’s last by-line for the newspaper was recorded a week ago. It resonates like an echo of his own voice. The young man of 43 years of age has left us, but will not be forgotten.