Manager Scott Servais brought in a mariachi band to celebrate his centerfielder's 29th birthday.
PEORIA, Ariz. — The plan was for a quiet birthday. Perhaps dinner with fellow Cuban and teammate Guillermo Heredia and a few others. Beyond that, Leonys Martin had nothing special lined up for his 29th birthday on Friday.
With his wife and two children still back in Miami, there wasn’t much of a reason for him to have a big celebration. The highlight was likely going to be a Facetime conversation with them after the Mariners’ Cactus League game against his old team – the Texas Rangers.
“Really I planned to celebrate by myself,” he said.
But manager Scott Servais had other plans. He was going to have some fun with his boisterous, high-voiced, higher-energy center fielder and provide some entertainment for his team in what has already been a long spring training.
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“We’ve got something special planned for Leonys’ birthday,” Servais said with a mischievous smile in his morning media meeting. “You guys will see it.”
Actually, the surprise was heard before it was seen.
From the Mariners clubhouse, the sound of a mariachi music could be heard during the daily team meeting. It filled the entire complex.
What was happening?
Servais had reserved the quartet — Mariachi Phoenix — to surprise Martin and play him “Feliz Cumpleaños” and other Mexican songs while he wore a sombrero in front of the team.
“I just got in the clubhouse and they came in and started playing,” said Martin, who is Cuban but got Mexican citizenship so he could declare to be a free agent after defecting in 2010. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Oh, but there was more. The band was instructed to follow Martin wherever he went during the morning workout and continue to play at all times, an apparent reference to the recently-released movie “Fist Fight” in which one of the characters is followed around by a mariachi band as part of a prank. Martin was also ordered to wear the sombrero while on the field instead of his Mariners’ cap.
So when Martin left the clubhouse, the band followed and continued to play on his way out in the field.
The band played as the Mariners stretched, warmed up and played catch. Third base coach Manny Acta took great joy in the band, requesting songs and singing along and cajoling other players to do the same.
They followed Martin out into center field and played on the warning track as the Mariners took infield/outfield practice. Martin had to make all of the throws with the sombrero on. Multiple coaches pointed out, Martin threw better with the sombrero on because it forced him to keep his head up and his body on line to the target.
The band followed the outfielders to another field and played to the group as they practice pop flies in the sun. It was there that Martin summoned one of the clubhouse attendants to bring the band bottles of water since they’d been playing for so long in the sun.
“I got you guys,” he yelled.
Martin then headed for the batting cages to get his early hitting work in, and the band played on. His first swings were with the sombrero on. But he eventually had to remove it.
“It was kind of weird, man,” he said.
From there, the band stood behind the on-field cage, playing more songs as Martin took batting practice. Martin requested “La Bamba” multiple times.
The band drew applause from the spectators watching and Martin posed for pictures with them and signed autographs. As Martin and the position players left the practice fields, the band followed along while still playing — a mini parade of sorts. They continued to play in the clubhouse for the team after the workout. They did pause for Martin to talk to the media. It was at that point where Felix Hernandez, who was getting ready to head to Surprise to train with Venezuela’s WBC squad, grabbed the violin and tried to play it. The awful sound coming from the instrument verified Hernandez’s lack of musical talent.
“Man, this is amazing,” Martin said looking around the clubhouse. “My teammates, my friends, my family, they surprised me. It’s amazing to have this kind of present for me. “
Has he ever had a birthday present quite like this?
“Never in my life,” he said. “This is something I will never forget in my life. It means a lot to me.”
Martin’s teammates enjoyed the celebration.
“Birthday Boy was kinda shy at first, but he loosened up,” said outfielder Jarrod Dyson. “I told him you’ve got to get up and dance.”
Dyson is a newcomer to the Mariners after spending his entire career with Kansas City. He’s starting to see that this isn’t the typical clubhouse in many ways.
“It’s his birthday and the boys did something special for him,” Dyson said. “I’ve never seen this in my career or ever. I think it’s something great to keep the guys loose on the field throughout practice. It’s just great overall, to celebrate his birthday on the field with us. It’s good to enjoy with your friends and teammates.”
Dyson was stunned when the band followed Martin.
“To go out on the field, that’s something special,” Dyson said. “It probably is costing a lot of money, but it’s the fun and what you get out of it, that matters.”
Speaking of the cost, Kyle Seager was “voluntold” he was paying for the band by Servais. It’s something that Servais asks of his leaders and highest paid players to do, share the wealth in certain ways.
“I was absolutely volunteered for this,” Seager said. “I got stuck with the bill. It’s been fun and that band was awesome. I was just afraid they were going to get hit by a ball.”
Doing it for Martin, who is probably the most well-liked player on the team, made it a worthwhile expenditure for Seager.
“He’s always upbeat and he’s always positive,” Seager said. “He’s one of those guys where it doesn’t matter how he’s doing or how anything is going, he’s still going to be the same guy every day. To be able to bring that kind of energy every single day is pretty special.”
Servais has preached a culture change since taking over. Seager was one of the leaders that embraced the different approach.
“It’s a very long season,” he said. “And if you aren’t enjoying yourself and enjoying each other, it can be a really long year. We’ve had it here where you aren’t winning and not having fun. He’s certainly brought a different culture here. He’s made it a lot more fun, but we still have that edge where winning is the goal.”
Martin got emotional talking about Servais. The two first met when Servais was director of player development for the Rangers and Martin was signed as a free agent in May of 2011 after defecting from Cuba.
“He was amazing all the time with me,” he said. “I got nothing bad to say about him. He’s been on my side since the first day that I’ve met him. And for me, he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my life.”
Martin admittedly felt unwanted by the Rangers when he was traded to the Mariners. He credits Servais for making him feel like he belongs and bringing that feeling to the clubhouse.
“He’s done an amazing job,” Martin said. “He does everything to try to make this team be like a family, be together. That’s only way we are going to get to where want to get to.”
If this is what Servais does for Martin’s 29th birthday, one could only imagine what he’ll no next year for his milestone 30th birthday.