Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez grew into a hero for Seattle and Puerto Rico
At long last, the MLB dream of Edgar Martinez comes to a fitting end. After 10 long years of waiting, his bronze plaque will be hung in the gallery at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., his career immortalized among 328 other greats of the game.
It has been a long road that perhaps would test the patience of just about any other ballplayer, but patience and Edgar Martinez are longtime acquaintances. From having to spin his wheels during an extra two years in Triple-A because the Mariners could not find room for him on their 25-man roster (he didn’t play a full MLB season until he was 27), to seeing his Hall of Fame vote totals go up and down – and ultimately, slowly, start to climb – in the decade after he took his final swing, as was the case with any adversity in his career Martinez was able to manage it.
“Surprisingly I was very calm about it,” he said of his final year of Hall of Fame eligibility via Baseball Writers’ Association of America election.
“I think through the whole process there were a lot of ups and downs and I got used to it. I think through all theses years I had a chance to work my emotions,” Martinez said through a laugh. “A lot of ups and downs for sure.”
Ten years of emotions to work through on a 22-year professional career and the completion of a dream that started in Dorado, Puerto Rico 46 years previous – the moment the baseball bug bit him hard.
“I wanted to play the game and be like Roberto Clemente,” Martinez said of his 10-year-old self. “What I remember was a ball he hit to right field and my aunt was screaming in the living room. I think that connection, what it meant to my aunt and the images that I saw on the field of him hitting stuck with me.”
There would be turbulence in young Edgar’s life that year as he made the decision to stay in Puerto Rico with his grandparents rather than move back to New York, where he was born, with his parents. Puerto Rico was where he felt he was most needed. It was also there where his baseball would thrive.
“Puerto Rico was such a great place for me to grow up,” he said. “It was an ideal environment where I grew up to play the game. It was a small community where everyone knew each other. It was very close, and it was very open. I loved it.”
There is no doubt Puerto Rican flags will be flying on the lawn in Cooperstown during Sunday’s induction ceremony. A large contingent of fans and media from the island have been present the last two days. Ponce, Puerto Rico native Carlos Ruiz (not the former Mariners catcher) made the trip with three Puerto Rican friends, all sporting custom-made PR/Edgar Martinez T-shirts. The excitement and joy that Roberto Clemente inspired in Edgar’s aunt was duplicated with those of another generation who grew up watching Edgar.
“This is huge for us,” Ruiz said. “We love the island and we support baseball all the way. He is so humble a person, a complete human being. Not only in the field, he has been recognized with the Roberto Clemente Award for taking care of people out of the game.
“We are very proud. We are blessed to be here. He’s the model to be for all of us growing up watching him play.”
Edgar would come to love a second home, as well. His first look at Seattle was a quick drive through in a van with a handful of other young players on the way to Bellingham to start their professional careers. A self-described confident kid on the field who was shy off the field, Martinez would struggle in his first year in the minors, hitting .173 with just a .202 (!) slugging percentage. In his mind there was a chance his career could come to an early end, but work and a mental adjustment got him on the right path.
“I think the most difficult part is when you have failures, how you look at failures, it’s very easy to say I don’t have the skills, I won’t make it. That does not help yourself. It was tough but I would have told myself to keep pushing,” he said.
Keep pushing to a Hall of Fame career spent exclusively with the Mariners. Edgar spent 18 years playing in a Mariners uniform in what seemed to be a perfect marriage between player, team and city. There was a period of uncertainty in his Mariners tenure, though it was the briefest of breaks in the union.
“In 2003 I was a free agent and at the deadline we didn’t have an agreement,” Martinez said. “That was midnight eastern time and I became a free agent that year, but it was for like eight hours. In the morning I got a call and we got an agreement. That was it.”
It was where Edgar wanted to be. His wife Holli is from the area, his children were born and went to school here. Then there was the city itself, and its people.
“I connected with the fans here, love the city and the people, the quality of life here is real good,” he said. “It’s a beautiful city to live in. There were so many positives about staying that outweighed just being a free agent and going to another city.”
Edgar is the one who stayed. That’s a rarity now in sports, and is something that should be appreciated.
On Sunday, it will be celebrated.
“Sometimes I can’t believe that it worked out this way,” Edgar mused. “It means a lot. I just try to kind of enjoy it now. When you are playing the game you don’t realize much of that, it’s what you do. Now with the retirement and the years that have gone by I can reflect and enjoy it more. It has been special.”
More on Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame induction
• Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Famer because he was ahead of curve
• Drayer: 3 memorable stories from covering Edgar Martinez as a reporter
• Life as Edgar Martinez’s teammate: A conversation with Mike Blowers