The celebratory whirlwind that has carried Edgar Martinez on a sometimes uncomfortable emotional ride, one that seemed almost impossible five years ago, is finally slowing down to a pace that he finds a little more comfortable.
“Sometimes this all feels like it’s a little too much,” he said Friday. “But I’m very blessed for this to happen to me and my family.”
He delivered perhaps his final speech of this magical ride that has taken him all over the country, to his native Puerto Rico and ultimately to Cooperstown, N.Y.
For all the stops and requests along the way, this was something he cherished. Just about a year ago, he stood in front of the Mariners at a nearly sold-out Safeco Field as his No. 11 was retired.
On Saturday evening he returned to that same podium of now T-Mobile Park as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame for a weekend celebrating that honor. A hope that he and so many other Mariners fan held for him since he became eligible was now a reality.
This gave him a chance to thank as many fans as possible for that support in a ballpark that he played a major role in helping get built.
“I want to let them know what an important role they played in my career,” he said. “It’s been a great relationship for a long time and I want to let them know how I feel.”
That stadium, which sits on the corner of Dave Niehaus Way and Edgar Martinez Drive, will soon have a new adornment. Mariners chairman John Stanton announced that a statue commemorating Martinez’s unforgettable double to score Ken Griffey Jr. and win the 1995 American League Division Series over the Yankees has been commissioned and will be unveiled next season.
The announcement made Martinez fidget a little in his seat while Mariners fans in attendance responded with a standing ovation. It’s a deserved honor for the most beloved player in franchise history.
Like his induction speech in Cooperstown, something that Martinez agonized and worked on since the day he was informed of his selection, this one was planned, practiced and delivered with humility and earnestness. It felt personal because it was personal to him. He thanked the fans that came to his induction, commenting about the sea of Mariners jerseys he saw as he stood at the podium of the induction ceremony.
“It was humbling to see,” he said. “I felt you with me.”
He thanked those that had shaped him as a player, including the players that he played with over a career spent all with one organization, some of whom were there to offer support because that’s what teammates do.
He encouraged the current Mariners, all standing on the top row of the dugout, telling them to keep grinding because the payoff will be worth it. He didn’t tell them that was his formula for success. He would never say such a thing. He didn’t need to. They already knew.
His life changed forever Jan. 22 when he received the call from Jack O’Connell of the Baseball Writers Association of America informing him he’d received enough votes to gain induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
What followed was a nonstop tour of places and people that wanted to celebrate his life’s achievement because that’s how much he meant to them. He understood that desire to share in his accomplishment since they were a part of him, and he was part of them in a relationship only he and Mariners fans could understand.
It was also the duty and responsibility of the exclusive club he had been accepted to, getting to call himself a Hall of Famer. Though it’s impossible to think of Martinez referring to himself in that way.
So in his humble and understated manner, Martinez did it all – the news conferences, the television interviews, the fan appearances, the book signings and the other requests he couldn’t say no to because, well, that just isn’t his way.
The onslaught of attention he’s received is something he’s never been comfortable with since his days as one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He let his bat and his production do the bulk of his talking during his playing days. He was always amenable to talk baseball, but always uncomfortable talking about himself and always wishing he was in the cage hitting baseballs instead.
But with the crowd standing, his family by his side, and several other local athletes who were enshrined into their respective halls of fame sitting next to him, and Griffey and Marilyn Niehaus, Dan Wilson and Alvin Davis just a shoulder pat away, the emotion came to him. This wonderfully implausible journey of baseball, Seattle and dreams for a kid from Puerto Rico filled his heart and pushed to his throat.
“Playing in front of you has been the highlight of my life,” he said, his voice cracking with sentiment. “Thank you, Mariners fans. I don’t know if I will have the chance to tell you this again. I love you.”