COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — A promise was made between a mother and her son long ago when Edgar Martinez was still tormenting pitchers and torching baseballs into the right-center gaps of whatever park he happened to be playing in that day.
Ryan Brooks and his mom, Shari, told each other they would travel to Cooperstown, N.Y., if/when the Mariners designated hitter was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Fast-forward almost two decades later, and that promise was kept.
On the main street of this little upstate village that becomes the focal point of baseball each July, the Brookses were soaking in baseball Valhalla. The low-90s temperature with shirt-wrecking humidity, a precursor to the short and violent 5 o’clock thunderstorm and gully-washing downpour, didn’t bother them.
Ryan was clad proudly in a “Northwest Green” Martinez jersey, while Shari had on earrings with the Mariners’ “S” logo. They were savoring each moment of their mother-son adventure.
“He’s married and he has a family,” Shari said. “This is the first vacation I’ve had with him in 20 years. It’s just uninterrupted time. What a gift.”
There was a time, perhaps four or five years ago, that this trip didn’t seem like a possibility. With time on the ballot reduced from 15 years to 10 years and Martinez’s candidacy stagnating and declining from 2012 to 2014, gaining enough votes for induction seemed unlikely.
But with an evolving voting base of qualified members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America that got younger, a more sophisticated and analytical approach to looking at players statistics and a change in thinking toward the designated hitter, Martinez’s numbers started to climb in 2016 and eventually reached the necessary 75 percent in his final year on the ballot.
“I always thought he should be in, but I was skeptical for a little while,” Brooks said. “Coming up on January this year, a week before the announcement, we actually bought our plane tickets and booked our Airbnb and booked a car rental. I looked at Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker and felt good about it.”
For the Brookses, Martinez’s possible induction was always going to be their first trip to Cooperstown. Sure, Ken Griffey Jr. was the first player to wear a Mariners cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, and his induction was a seminal event for fans. But they wanted to wait for Martinez.
“I started going to games in the early ’90s with my mom as a teenager,” Ryan said. “He just felt a little more Seattle. I know he’s not from Seattle, but it felt like he came to love it here. Griffey felt like he was here because we happened to have the first pick. Edgar made a lot of efforts to stay. Not only did he not try to get out, he actively tried to stay. That was cool. He always seemed to be somebody you could relate to.”
The blue-collar approach that Martinez brought to the game with his unassuming personality and general likability made him the perfect role model to Shari.
“I have a lot of respect for him as an individual,” she said. “He’s a family man. He has high standards. That means a lot. Having somebody like that as my son’s hero, that means really a lot. He was always so humble. Ryan just finished his book and I’m going to read it. There’s nothing to not like about him.”
Luis Rodriguez got that experience. A native of Puerto Rico, now living in Georgia, he was wearing a Puerto Rico jersey and cap from the World Baseball Classic. He saw Martinez crossing the street from the Otesaga Hotel and hollered to his fellow countryman.
“He yelled back to me and waved,” Rodriguez said.
Martinez’s pride in his homeland is well known, and Rodriguez was there to support that.
“There is an intensity, a passion for baseball,” he said. “It’s in our blood. He has that.”
Even Mariners fans who came to Cooperstown for the first time for Griffey’s induction returned for Martinez. He means something different to Mariners fans — even Griffey admitted as much in the past. Martinez never left. A player’s loyalty isn’t soon forgotten, which is why his bond with Mariners fans seems to be something more than just baseball.
“People have really been waiting for this,” said Erin Solack, who is here with her husband, Mark.
They went to Griffey’s induction and have returned for Martinez’s.
“When Griffey forced his way out, that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, even myself,” Mark said. “I guess time heals.”
There is never a caveat when it comes to Martinez and Mariners fans. He signed with the Mariners at 19 and retired a Mariner at 41. And in that time, he provided some of the most memorable moments in a franchise history that was starved for success.
“Griffey is Griffey, but Edgar is ours,” said Randy Policar, who made the trip from Arizona with his father. “Edgar is Seattle’s. He never left. He stayed. He coached. He’s always been around. For me, I grew up with Ken Griffey Jr. I love Ken Griffey Jr. But when I think of the Seattle Mariners, I think Edgar Martinez. We were there for ’95 during that run. Edgar Martinez is the Seattle Mariners.”
Griffey emitted a godlike aura on the field, doing things that didn’t seem possible for mortals, while Martinez seemed like a craftsman, constantly working, honing and polishing on something that he would never feel was perfect.
“Griffey had that larger-than-life personality with his backward hat, while Edgar is in the batting cage doing eye exercises,” Policar said. “And that’s not taking anything away from Junior. But Edgar had to work harder to be a superstar. That’s not a knock on Griffey. He had all this natural talent, while Edgar had all these obstacles thrown up in front of him.”
Policar has a suggestion or perhaps more of a request of the Mariners.
“I’m assuming we are going to have an Edgar statue at some point with that swing from ‘The Double,’ ” he said.
As the sun continued to bake the pavement and the number of fans filling the sidewalks and shops increased, gawking at players signing autographs for a price, checking out T-shirts of every sort and searching for hydration and shade, James Nardo walked with his young son, Ruxin. The Mount Vernon residents had a full day of fun, and Ruxin was trying not to fade. The mention of baseball brought his eyes wide.
Nardo came for the Griffey induction but had to bring his son for Martinez.
“It was magical, but I wanted to come back with my son and share part of my childhood with him,” he said. “I tell him that Edgar is the greatest right-handed hitter we’ve ever seen play, and he led by example. I want him to play baseball like Edgar did — quiet and do the small things and do them well. Edgar holds a special place in my heart because he never left. Every big hit I can think back to was Edgar Martinez. He played the game with class. That’s why I want my son to play like him.”
A father teaching his son about his favorite game. It still happens in this technology-driven world.
“I get misty eyed,” Nardo said. “We went through the museum together and I was showing him things from games I’ve been to and stadiums I’ve been to. Sharing with him is a dream come true.”
As the Nardos began to leave, Ruxin is asked if he ever hit homers.
“No, but one time I hit a laser,” he said as his father laughed.
Well that’s one step closer to playing just like Seattle’s newest Hall of Famer, Edgar Martinez.