Monday, October 4, 2004
Edgar Martinez considered retiring after the 2003 season. But another solid year - a .294 average, 24 home runs, 98 RBI - convinced him to return. This season was a disaster, the Mariners out of the race early. By July, it seemed Tacoma Rainiers games were being played at Safeco Field, the Mariners holding 2005 auditions for their top prospects. One of those was a big slugger named Bucky Jacobsen, and Edgar was regularly asked to take a seat so
Jacobsen could get in his swings.
On Aug. 9, Edgar announced what had become obvious, that this would be his final season. Mariners fans said goodbye last weekend, cheering Edgar in his final three games in Seattle. Now, after 18 seasons with the Mariners, it's over. His Hall of Fame credentials will be debated, but this much is certain: The Mariners, and Seattle, will miss Edgar.
ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 2003
Mariners fans' sing-song chants of "Eddddd ... grrrr! ... Eddddd ... grrrr!", dating to the Kingdome days and carried over at Safeco Field, is music to the ears for any fan of the team's designated hitter.
I regularly covered the Mariners in 2000 and 2001 before I switched to the Seahawks. But from time to time I get to cover Mariners games, and earlier this season I worked on a story about how the Mariners market the team to the Northwest Latino population.
Edgar was the first player I wanted to interview, but not because of all the years he spent with the Mariners. My parents are big fans of Edgar, and they live in the Portland area (where I grew up) and have been able to watch Mariners games on TV regularly.
I can't tell you how many times I've had phone conversations with my mom and dad about the ballgames, because I would watch, too, or they would want to know if I covered a particular game. And in almost every such conversation, they would get around to about Edgar. And when the subject did come up, they would do the famous Edgar yell in unison right in my ear:
"Edddddd ... grrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!"
They always thought it was great that the fans did that at the Kingdome and Safeco Field. I think Edgar always meant more to them because he is Latino, though he is Puerto Rican and we are of Mexican heritage, because he was very humble about his success. My mom really liked that about him.
And I think my dad, who is from California and once followed the Dodgers, became more of a Mariners fan because of Edgar.
When the end was apparent and Edgar Martinez was clearly working his way to the last days of his career, someone bought him a toy cane. It was the kind of thing you would find in a party store, a gag gift you give when somebody in the office retires.
It was made of black plastic and had a yellow sign that read "Over the Hill X-ing," with a bicycle horn attached to the top. He had tossed the cane in the corner of his locker where it lay unused, a joke long since forgotten.
But here it was, in one of those final weeks before he announced his retirement, and the normally stoic Martinez was hobbling around the clubhouse, leaning on that cane like an old man. He was laughing. Near the door to the outside he stopped, glanced at a group of us, then reached down and squeezed the horn.
It made a noise like "Honka! Honka!"
Then he laughed some more and hobbled through the door and down the hallway, never once breaking his old man stride.
And it was the most emotion I had ever seen from a very private man.
JUAN LUIS MARTINEZ / SPECIAL FOR SEATTLE TIMES
Edgar Martinez's house in the Maguayo sector of Dorado, Puerto Rico, where he was raised by his grandparents, includes a backyard batting cage for aspiring ballplayers.
Edgar Martinez is the most humble superstar I have ever encountered in 25 years of covering sports. Back in late March of 2001, when I visited Edgar's childhood home in Dorado, Puerto Rico, I saw for myself the roots of his essential decency.
It didn't take long to realize that Edgar is revered in Dorado - or, more specifically, the neighborhood called Maguayo where he grew up. When they found out a reporter from Seattle was in town, people were eager to tell me about some kindness he had extended to them, or to show me a souvenir of his career they had faithfully saved.
I saw the baseball field where Edgar and his cousin, former major-leaguer Carmelo Martinez, used to swing at bottle caps or tape-wrapped foam balls with a broomstick. I had lunch at the homey outdoor restaurant called the Naranja Bar, where Edgar always stops for a pincho (sort of a chicken or beef shishkebob) when he's in town. A man named Wilson Torres told me, "Every time he comes home, he shares with all his friends and just becomes one of us. He is the same simple guy."
The most poignant moment came when I visited his home on Calle 13, where Edgar was raised by his grandparents. Edgar bought the house a decade ago to relieve his grandparents of debt in their twilight years. It has been remodeled and expanded, but it doesn't look out of place in a neighborhood of limited means. In the backyard is a batting cage that Edgar allows local aspiring ballplayers to use.
Sitting on a bench in the backyard, talking to several friends and relatives of Martinez, I was told the story of how his parents, who had split up when Edgar was young, reconciled when he was 11 and summoned the children to New York. His brother and sister went, but Edgar elected to stay with his grandparents.
"He locked himself in his room and wouldn't come out, didn't want to leave," Edgar's uncle, Jose Juan Rivera, told me. "The luggage was already packed. The luggage left. He stayed."
"I felt my grandparents needed me," Edgar would tell me later. "I went with my feelings."
Now I have a better idea why people feel the way they do about him.