New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez emphasized Thursday that he did nothing illegal by attending a cockfight with Hall of Famer Juan Marichal in the Dominican Republic.
A video of Martinez and Marichal was posted Tuesday on YouTube and later pulled. The Mets said Thursday in a statement that the video was shot two years ago.
Cockfighting is legal and popular in the Dominican Republic.
"I understand that people are upset, but that is part of our Dominican culture and is legal in the Dominican Republic," Martinez said in a statement Thursday. "I was invited by my idol, Juan Marichal, to attend the event as a spectator, not as a participant."
But Martinez and Marichal were characterized in an Associated Press story as participating in the cockfight as honorary "soltadores," the word used to describe the person who puts the animal to fight. The animal released by Martinez appears to be killed on the video, according to the AP report.
The fight took place in the Coliseo Gallistico de Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo Cockfighting Coliseum), the Dominican Republic's biggest cockfighting venue.
"We do not condone any behavior that involves cruelty to animals," the Mets said in a statement Thursday. "We understand, however, that in many other countries, activities such as bullfighting and cockfighting are both legal and part of the culture."
On Thursday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent letters to both pitchers, calling on them to publicly apologize. The Humane Society of the United States said "Major League Baseball should join us in condemning Martinez and Marichal for their shameful example."
PETA also sent a letter to baseball commissioner Bud Selig urging all major league players and staff to take its animal sensitivity training course -- the same one Michael Vick attended after pleading guilty to federal dogfighting charges in August.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback received a 23-month jail sentence. The NFL suspended him indefinitely without pay.
In his letter to Selig, PETA assistant director Dan Shannon mentioned the Vick case and wrote, "it seems that education on the importance of treating animals humanely is in order for Major League Baseball."
Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said Selig had not yet seen the letter.
"We don't condone any kind of animal cruelty, but we're not going to comment on any individuals at this time," Levin said.
Except for baseball, cockfighting is widely considered the Dominican Republic's most popular sport. Almost every small town along the Caribbean nation's highways boasts a covered fighting ring where trainers come to test their best roosters and rich and poor alike fill the wooden stands to drink, wager and watch the bloody spectacle.
One of the best-known fighting rings is in Martinez's hometown of Manoguayabo, made famous in 1991 as the opening setting for Michelle Wucker's noted history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, "Why the Cocks Fight."
On fight days, well-heeled Dominicans and curious foreigners -- almost all of them men -- put on their best suits, polo shirts and chacabanas for a card with as many as 30 fights. Between bouts, bettors tour the fiberglass cages where prime roosters are examined with the same keenness of eye as a regular in the paddock at Churchill Downs.
The fight begins when two roosters are lowered into the arena. Men in blue or white coats more at home in a laboratory or butcher shop prep the fighters, taunting them into a frenzy with a third rooster. As the timed fight begins, the crowd erupts in a flurry of one-on-one betting, flashing hand signals across the room to signal fast-changing odds with the ironclad frenzy of a New York trade floor.
Roosters are generally armed with a small bone or resin spur meant to inflict maximum damage on their opponents, and the blood, feathers and poultry stench that linger afterward are a testament to their potency.
But the roosters do not always die. Matches are timed, 10-15 minutes in length, and many end in a draw with both chickens bloodied and exhausted, but alive to fight another day.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.