Drayer: 3 memorable stories from covering Edgar Martinez as a reporter
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – It has been hard to come up with what to write about Edgar Martinez on the eve of his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His story is now well known. Heck, he even has a must-read autobiography co-written by Larry Stone on shelves now.
Angles are hard to come by. One of my number one goals – and a goal of most on any beat – is to never become the story, or even part of a story. Sometimes the paths of the observer and subject cross, however, and a different angle I suppose is my angle, an angle that I hope lets others in a bit and ultimately is appreciated.
These are stories that I have told in speaking engagements over the years but have never written. Moments of impact – some personal, some professional, all baseball. A little look behind the scenes.
The 2002 season was my first covering spring training with the Mariners. I had covered the team on a part-time basis since 1998 but I was always part of the second or even third string of coverage. I decided that more face time with the club, away from Seattle, would help me jump higher up in the hierarchy, and I went to work on my own to find an advertising deal that would send me to Peoria. I lucked out and was able to spend three weeks at spring training.
Those three weeks were everything I hoped they would be. I got a closer look at the day in, day out of a baseball team than I ever had before. The situation was a little intimidating in that I was for the most part the only woman in the clubhouse, but I found a spot in the hallway near the manager’s office and across from the food room where I felt safe to observe and plan my daily moves.
Watching Edgar Martinez was fascinating. He was never in one place for long. Early to arrive, late to leave, always working. His bat scale sitting atop his locker, boxes of bats awaiting weighing and approval sitting nearby. Most of Edgar’s back and forth was between the weight room and the locker area. A little later in the morning of each day, however, he would head to the food room across from where I often had stationed myself.
The Mariners now have a state-of-the-art spring training facility with every type of technology, the best workout and training facilities, a triple-sized clubhouse and a giant cafeteria style room where meals were prepared and served. In 2002 there was a small kitchen behind the general purpose room with a window that opened up to the back patio where players would eat under a tent. The small food room off the locker area was nothing more than a couple of tables, a refrigerator, a cereal dispenser on the wall, a soup pot and a couple of blenders. Each morning Edgar would walk into that room and exit with a large cup of some sort of frozen greenish/grayish/brownish/taupe-ish awfulness in it.
“Hey Edgar,” I called out to him one day. “What have you got in there? A steak?”
He smiled and kept walking.
The next day I was in the same spot. Edgar walked into the food room and this time came out with two cups, one of which he handed to me.
“Here, try it,” he exclaimed. “It’s good!”
Appetizing is the last word I would have used to describe the smoothie, and with the concoction in-hand I was horrified to learn that the smell may very well have been worse than the color. I tried to politely take a small sip.
“Good, right?” Edgar asked.
In that moment I realized that if Edgar Martinez thought that smoothie was good, it must have been years since he actually had something that was. I told him that. He laughed and went on his way.
A funny moment, but it really made me think of his devotion to what he was doing. I don’t believe there were any “cheat days” back then.
‘You cannot be here’
In 2003 I was hired by the Mariners’ then-flagship radio station to travel with and cover the team on a daily basis. My immersion in the day-to-day seemed to increase tenfold. That first year was exciting, exhilarating and sometimes intimidating. I was the first woman to travel with the team and I did not want to screw things up. The broadcasters and team officials were terrific about telling me the dos and don’ts and the proper clubhouse and plane protocol.
I will never forget the quandary that put me in on my first flight.
I had been told to hang back with the broadcasters when we were taken plane-side by bus. The manager would be the first to get on the plane followed by the coaches, players, staff and finally ‘the media,’ which consisted of broadcasters and technical crew.
When we disembarked the bus onto the tarmac I stepped to the side to await our turn to board. As the players got off their bus they headed for the stairs and then stopped. I don’t remember who it was but the player at the front of the group turned, looked at me and said, “Ladies first.”
I shook my ahead, wanting to keep with protocol.
“No, no!” I said. “You go first.”
The player made a sweeping motion with his arm in the direction of the steps and again said, “Ladies first.”
I appreciated that they were being polite, but there were rules! A short back and forth ensued and I realized that rule or no rule, I was going to have to go up those steps first.
I’m not sure what got worked out after that flight but on the next one I was able to board with the rest of the media.
Unfortunately, that would not be my last bout of plane trouble. The other incident came a year later, and for better or worse (and then better again) involved Edgar.
Back in the early 2000s the team flew to its games on one of Paul Allen’s 757s. It was a beautiful plane. The interior was immaculate, the lighting pleasant. All meals and drinks were served on and in china and glass with nice cutlery and silver salt and pepper shakers. The coaches sat in the front, the staff and media in the middle and the players behind us. While now the staff separates the players and media, back then it wasn’t uncommon to have a player directly behind me. For a couple of years that player was Jamie Moyer, which was great because Jamie would often bring good wine and every now and then invite me to try something, with one caveat: You must use a clean glass. There was never any mixing of the cabs and merlots.
One year Aaron Harang sat behind me and I learned about his all out love for candy. The guy was a walking 7-11 store and he loved to talk about his favorites. Oftentimes the player behind me was the newest call-up which was great because while I am not supposed to approach anyone on the plane – that is their time so I am not the reporter there, it is don’t be seen or heard – the kids sometimes were excited about the new experience and that would put them in a chatty mood. Those conversations opened the door a little for me and sometimes gave me insight I otherwise would not get.
In the middle of the 2003 season I was told that the restroom in the middle of the plane was super lux and that I needed to see it. I would usually go to the front so to not walk by the players seated behind me. My seatmate, a TV reporter, decided to check it out one flight and told me it was OK to go back there. If memory serves me right, it was about five rows behind me – the first three rows were front facing, the final two facing each other with a table between them. I decided what the heck and popped on back there.
The restroom, for the record, was very nice. Double sized, full length mirror, nice fixtures and amenities and I believe a small vase with flowers. Worth seeing once, I decided.
As I was heading back, Ryan Franklin, who was playing cards with a group of younger players, stopped me and showed me his hand.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” I answered. “I don’t play cards.”
“We’ll show you,” he answered. “Stay and watch a couple of hands.”
I told him I couldn’t, that I needed to get back to my seat. I was not supposed to be there. He asked again and I was in the bad position of not wanting to be rude or worse yet, seem weird for running back to my seat which is exactly what I wanted to do.
“One hand,” he said.
A compromise, I figured. I stayed for the hand feeling anxious the whole time but also taking in the scene in front of me: Ballplayers away from the field. The guys at the table were perfectly fine with me there, but I knew I shouldn’t be.
A second hand was dealt and again I was asked to stay. I was caught in between, trying to think of a good way to get out of this when all of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and, to my surprise, connected to that hand was the veteran of the team, Edgar Martinez, looking down at me.
“Edgar!” I exclaimed.
“Shannon,” he said in his Edgar lilt. “You cannot be here.”
I scampered back to my seat, lickity-split, no questions asked. As I fell into my chair I could feel my cheeks turn red which is a rare occasion for me. There was a flood of emotions that took place over the next 60 seconds, from “oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh I’m in huge trouble” to “Who in the world does he think he is?” indignation. The latter soon gave way to utter confusion. How could one possibly be mad at Edgar Martinez?
The confusion, with a smidge of fear that I might actually be in trouble, was the emotion that stuck with me throughout the night and then the next day in Kansas City where the team was to play the Royals. The whole episode left me out of sync. I avoided Edgar in the clubhouse that afternoon. At one point I walked out to the dugout to sit and gather my thoughts. While I was sitting on the bench, veteran catcher Pat Borders came out and sat next to me. Borders was the salty, cowboy-boot-wearin’, two-pairs-of-jeans-owning, sleep-in-the-clubhouse baseball wonderfulness that I doubt exists any longer.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
I told him I was fine.
“That just wasn’t right,” he said referring to what happened on the plane.
I told him that it was absolutely fine. Edgar was right. I shouldn’t have been there.
“No,” said Borders shaking his head. “You are on our flight, you are a part of our group, you have a right to be wherever you want to be. I’m going to say something to him.”
No! That was the absolute last thing I wanted. While I appreciated that Pat felt that way, the last thing I needed was players arguing about where I could and could not be. That put a new level of panic in me. I assured him that I was fine and begged him not to say anything. At that point I was a complete wreck. I got up to leave and as I was walking through the tunnel back to the clubhouse Edgar passed me. Perfect, I thought. Now what?
As I passed Edgar he said, “Shannon, are we OK?”
I turned. After trying to figure out for a day how I was going to avoid Edgar for the remainder of the year, he’s asking if I am OK with him?
“Are you OK with me?” I asked, and then proceeded to tell him why I had been at the card table.
He shook his head and said that he had seen me from the back of the plane and heard a couple of the veterans grouse about a “media” member not where they should be.
“I thought it was better I tell you than them,” he said.
He was looking out for me and I think that probably had little to do with me, actually. He would have done that for anyone. I’m glad he did and I’m glad we got it worked out. I really didn’t want to be mad at Edgar Martinez.
‘You don’t need your notes’
The final story is possibly my favorite inside-the-game story from all of my years covering the Mariners. It is a moment I probably got more out of than any other.
In August 2004, Edgar Martinez announced he would retire at the end of the season. On the last road trip of that year I was assigned to do a final Edgar interview. This was it – his whole career in one interview. I thought it to be an incredibly important interview and as such threw myself into the preparation like no other interview I had done before. I wanted to ask the best questions, get to the heart of each matter, know his history inside out and find the answers to the final questions. I wrote out pages and pages of notes and questions. I think I even put them on flash cards to practice. I was going to be the most prepared I had ever been, with the best notes ever, for my interview.
I set up a time and place to interview Edgar before a game on that trip. We decided we would talk after batting practice that day. The night before I read my cards, got good sleep, then reviewed everything again the next day. When I got to the ballpark I laid all of my notes out at my spot in the press box and headed downstairs with my recorder to get my usual pregame interviews.
On the way downstairs I went through my mental notes of everything that I would need to do in the next few hours to get ready for the interview. Perhaps some last second tweaks. Regardless, I had time. A few minutes after entering the clubhouse Edgar came up to me and asked if we could do the interview right there and then.
I froze. I was not mentally ready. In my mind I had a few hours to get into the perfect mindset, re-run the questions, have the notes in my hands. I told him I preferred to do it at the assigned time.
“I really would like to do it now,” he answered in a way the made me realize this interview was happening – now.
“But Edgar,” I stammered, my heart was racing at this point, “I can’t. My notes are upstairs.”
Edgar chuckled perhaps not understanding what a big deal for me I had turned this into.
“You don’t need your notes,” he said. “You’re a good reporter. You can do it.”
While everything had been absolutely spinning for the prior 30 seconds, a sense of calm came over me at that moment. If Edgar Martinez thinks I can do it, by darnit, I can do it.
I realize that if this were a movie it would fall straight into the cheeseball category, but that is how I felt in that very moment. The interview went absolutely fine, but the interview isn’t the point of this story. I got much more than a good (I think) interview out of the experience.
I believe that for a split-second I got to feel what it felt like to be a teammate of Edgar Martinez.
His calmness, his confidence and his affirmation had an impact on me. I imagine that’s what it was like in the dugout with those around him, regardless of situation. Thirteen games out in August? We can do this. We have got time. Down one in the 11th of Game 5? We’ve got this. They may not have needed the confidence boost – or maybe they did from time to time – but according to former teammates his steadiness and positivity was a factor. The same can be said for the work he did as Mariners hitting coach. To a man, his hitters talked about Edgar leading with positivity and the effect that had in a job where failure is the norm.
It was just a glimpse, a snapshot, but I have never experienced anything like that moment since. That’s Edgar.