The story behind Pete Martini's AP Top 25 ballot
Just like everything in sports, there's a story behind the numbers. Pete Martini's is one of perseverance.
Pete Martini of the Salem Statesman Journal was feeling grateful the night before the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll dropped.
The 2023 football season marks Martini’s fourth as an AP voter, and as one of those sportswriters who grew up devouring box scores from the paper in the library before school started, Martini still holds the institution of the AP in high regard — even as he admits the actual poll’s significance has waned in the College Football Playoff era.
“It’s an honor to be a voter yet again,” Martini posted to social media Sunday night. “Both Oregon and Oregon State are ranked in the preseason Coaches poll. We’ll see if that’s true in the AP poll.”
They are. The Ducks 15th. The Beavers 18th.
But that’s not really the focus. Because while Martini had Oregon 10th and Oregon State 15th in his poll, as always in sports, there’s a story behind the numbers.
And Martini, for one, is glad he’s still around to tell it.
See, Martini has his dream job. He grew up in Salem, went to high school at Sprague, attended Oregon specifically for the J-School and then sought out a career that would land him back in the capital. He began as a public safety reporter in Klamath Falls, made the jump to the Statesman as a copy editor and then finally caught on as a reporter with his hometown sports desk in 2009.
He’s covered the Ducks and Beavers but, to him, most importantly he’s continued the Statesman’s strong commitment to covering local high school sports.
“I’m a Salem kid,” he said. “It was a big thing in my household on Saturday mornings picking up the Statesman Journal and reading what happened the night before.”
Martini has cancer, though, and it’s completely upended his life since his diagnosis in January of 2021. Life was already all over the place with sports paused during the pandemic, but then an inconclusive doctor’s visit for stomach pain pushed Martini to seek out a second opinion.
A colonoscopy revealed a tumor. Further tests showed cancer had spread from Martini’s colon, to his liver, to his lung.
“If I hadn’t done anything, the doctor said I’d only have a couple of months to live,” he said.
The two years since have been a carousel of tests, chemo, surgeries, radiation and anxiety. For someone who mapped out exactly what he wanted to do in life, and has a career where he gets to write the story, having no control has been a hurdle.
“The mental aspects of never knowing what the next two months are going to look like — let alone six months or a year,’” Martini said, “just fighting that mental battle is something you don’t really appreciate until you go through it.”
Martini took a short-term disability leave from work during his first six months of chemotherapy, which proved to be the most challenging period for him. In February 2021, he moved in with his parents. Tragically, his mother, Debra, passed away from heart failure in July of that year. Martini's father, Russ, is also a cancer survivor. And after Martini had initially moved back into his own apartment in November of that year, he returned the following August following major digestive surgery.
“It’s not easy being a 73-year-old who has to be the primary caretaker of someone. And it’s not easy being a 43-year-old who has to rely on someone for the simplest things. So we both go through that struggle. It’s not easy but we rely on each other,” Martini said. “There are things I can do that he can’t. There are things he does that I can’t…We rely on my sister a lot. We rely on my uncle a lot. We’re just a really tight family and losing my mom was really tough. But as a family we really grew together.”
Part of Martini getting a semblance of his life back has been his return to work. Since August of 2021, Martini has been filling the Statesman’s pages with stories on the Ducks, Beavers and local Salem athletes. It’s no secret that newspaper staffs are smaller than they once were. And without Martini’s byline, there was a noticeable hole in coverage only the Statesman could provide. Finding a way to continue that — through phone, Zoom and text interviews — has given Martini a purpose during a time when he’s often felt lost.
“It keeps me going. It keeps me motivated to do everything else,” he said. “The athletes themselves have been really good. They’ve been really engaging and understanding of my situation. I’m not going to be able to go to practice and talk to them after practice and games, but they know I still make time for them.”
In July, Martini had one of the most rewarding days of his career when he was presented with a basketball signed by athletes from West Salem.
“It was important for us to do that to really show and express how much we appreciate Pete as a person,” said Jackson Leach, a member of the boys basketball team. “He does so much for us so anything we can do to show our support and appreciation for him means a lot to us.”
The ball sits on the mantle in the house of Martini’s father.
“You want to give back to the community, and you hope it means something to the kids,” Martini said. “Then for them to do a gesture like that — it means a lot to know it means a lot to them.”
Ok, so back to the ballot. That’s just fun, if anything — one of the few standing traditions in college sports. It keeps Martini busy on Saturday evenings, and he enjoys the banter whenever a scorned fanbase discovers that for some reason some dude in Salem, Oregon, is apparently out to get them, and only them.
“Kansas State,” he said. “A couple of years ago I felt like I had everyone in the state of Kansas coming at me.
“In the grand scheme of everything I’m going through, it’s not the worst thing in the world.”
Lately, Martini has felt pretty good. He responded well to surgery in July, is starting chemo pills again soon and is embracing the type of sports cliche mentality journalists often snark at.
Right now, Martini’s just looking to win the day.
"I’m resigning myself to the fact that I have this, I’m going to have it the rest of my life and I don’t know how long that’s going to be,” he said. “But if you’re not optimistic, then you have no hope of having any future.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t live. It doesn’t mean I can’t do my job, my work. See my family around the holidays. Have time with my niece and nephew…you know, two-and-a-half months has become two-and-a-half years.
“Maybe it can become 10.”
— Tyson Alger, The I-5 Corridor
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