COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — People keep telling Edgar Martinez how calm he appears as his Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday nears, which is not quite accurate.
Oh, Martinez has always given off that vibe of being impervious to pressure, no matter how tense the situation. And on the baseball field, that was true. A premier designated hitter with the Mariners, Martinez’s uncanny ability to maintain his equilibrium at the plate is part of the package that got him to Cooperstown.
The truth, however, is that Martinez will be out of his element when he steps on the stage at the Clark Sports Center, in front of a crowd expected to be upward of 50,000 people. Martinez is being honored along with Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Lee Smith, Harold Baines and the late Roy Halladay.
“Obviously, I’m a little more nervous than I am in other settings,’’ Martinez said at a news conference on Saturday. “So far, I’m OK.”
When it came to hitting, Martinez always knew he could practice harder or study more diligently. But Martinez admits that at his essence he is a shy man who doesn’t revel in the spotlight. The best he could do was rehearse and hone his speech with the same diligence he would attack a hitting slump.
Asked Saturday if he is beginning to feel comfortable with his speech, which players are told to limit to eight to 12 minutes, Martinez laughed and said, “I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable doing that. But I’m feeling better. I think I’ve read it 50, 60 times. I practiced, so it should be OK.”
Still, Martinez added with another laugh, the moment he’s looking forward to the most is not stepping onto the stage to accept his plaque, whose contents will be read by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
“I’m looking forward to getting out of the stage,’’ he said.
Don’t read that to mean that Martinez, 56, isn’t deeply appreciative of the long-awaited honor. Or that he isn’t savoring all the trappings of joining the most exclusive club in baseball. It took the full 10 years of eligibility for Martinez to receive the necessary 75 percent of votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was elected in January with 85.4 percent of the vote.
Martinez and his family — wife Holli and children Alex, Jacqueline and Tessa — arrived in Cooperstown on Wednesday. His “aha” moment, he said, came when he entered the stately Otesaga Hotel, where all the Hall of Famers, old and new, are housed annually with their families.
“That’s when you say, ‘OK, here we go,’’’ Martinez noted. “You start seeing some of the Hall of Famers walking around, and that’s when you see it’s special.”
Martinez said that the likes of Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr., Dave Winfield, Wade Boggs, Pedro Martinez, Reggie Jackson and Phil Niekro have congratulated him. He said former Mariners teammate Randy Johnson, who was inducted in 2015, warned him that the weekend will seem like a blur.
“He said that on Monday, I’m going to say, ‘What happened?’ ‘’ Martinez recalled.
Martinez’s election seems to have touched the heart of Mariner fans, multitudes of whom have made the trek to this picturesque village in upstate New York. That’s because of Martinez’s inherent likability, the fact he played his whole career in Seattle and the excruciating wait he had to make the Hall of Fame.
“This is a closure,’’ he said. “It’s the ultimate award you get as a ballplayer, so it’s pretty special.”
Martinez has said previously that falling short in the voting for so many years, while hard on the psyche, might have been a blessing in disguise. Now his children, all in their teens or 20s, are old enough to fully appreciate what the honor means.
Holli Martinez said that she and Edgar spent the final week before the induction giving the kids a tutorial on the history of baseball.
“Tessa was a toddler and Jacqueline wasn’t born when he retired, so they don’t have any context for the significance of the Hall of Fame,’’ she said. “We have been teaching them about women’s league (the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, immortalized in the movie “A League of Their Own”), the African-American league, Jackie Robinson and the history of Latinos in baseball.
“It’s been emotional for us to share this with them to help understand the history of baseball and what Cooperstown means.”
In addition to being imbued with that historical background, the Martinez kids are soaking up the excitement leading up to the induction ceremony. They were dancing up a storm with their parents at a party Friday night, Edgar said.
The main event comes Sunday, of course — the moment Martinez has been building toward from the moment he signed with the Mariners at age 19 out of his hometown of Dorado, Puerto Rico, receiving a $4,000 signing bonus. Many family members, including his mother, brother and sister, and a host of childhood friends, have trekked to Cooperstown to watch his induction.
Asked what he recalled about his younger self, who began his career in 1983 with the Mariners’ minor-league affiliate in Bellingham, hitting a paltry .173, Martinez replied, “I had a lot of confidence. On the baseball field, had a lot of confidence. At the same time, outside the field, I was very shy.”
Martinez said he would have told his younger self to not get discouraged during the hard times. Asked what he would have told this youthful version about the thick mustache he sported early in his career — and which has been the butt of many retrospective jokes over the years — Martinez grinned and said, “What are you doing?”
Martinez would eventually compile a career batting average of .312 in 18 years with the Mariners, win two batting titles and provide one of the signature moments in Seattle sports history with his double against the Yankees in the 1995 playoffs.
And now he stands on the brink of baseball immortality.
“I’m just waiting for tomorrow now,’’ he said. “Tomorrow, it will be real.”