COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – He’d read and practiced the speech an estimated 50 times coming into Sunday, with an admitted 12 more times that morning, to the point where it was almost memorized. That included the 20 rewrites of the words he started jotting down the day after he received the magical phone call telling him he’d be joining baseball’s elite. The words were burned into his mind like scouting reports of opposing pitchers.
On a stifling and sun-drenched afternoon in this foliage-filled emerald valley, made somewhat bearable for the mass of fans in attendance by a steady breeze, Edgar Martinez gained official induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, delivering his much-prepared speech with the efficiency of one of his many at-bats with the game on the line. He was calm, focused and almost free of over-emotion … almost.
“I was close a couple of times,” he would later admit.
He’d waited 10 years for this moment. He was going to approach his induction speech like every day of his career with preparation, attention to detail and commitment.
Similar to the most famous at-bat in his career, where he got down 0-1 on a first-pitch called strike from Yankee right-hander Jack McDowell, Martinez didn’t panic when emotion first filled his voice as he stepped to the podium. The work and preparation that was done leading up to this – like all of his hours in the batting cage honing his swing and strengthening his eyes – proved worthy, allowing him to carry through a list of thank-yous to his teammates, coaches, family, the Mariners organization and Mariners fans, thousands of whom made the journey to this baseball hamlet in upstate New York.
He never broke down, even though there were times when he seemed on the verge. Clad in an impeccable blue suit with dark glasses to hide any tears, he seemed unaware of the heat and looked perfectly comfortable as if the podium was the right-handed batter’s box of the Kingdome. This wasn’t going to be easy, but he had worked to make it easier.
The swarms of Mariners fans in attendance, many of them clad in Martinez jerseys and Mariners caps, delivered the memorable and drawn out chants of “Edddddgaaaarrr! Edddddgaaaaarrr!” before the ceremony began, when he was officially introduced and when his 12-minute speech ended.
Of course, he didn’t go over the 12-minute limit. When he was told about the time maximum by the Hall of Fame, Martinez spent hours preparing and paring down his remarks to fit what was requested. Others Hall of Famers in the past shrugged off the humble requests and ventured into 20- and 30-minute territory. But not Martinez – his respect toward this hallowed place and the life-changing honor wouldn’t allow him to go one second beyond.
Everything about his speech reminded you of how he was as a player. His understated humility and selfless nature permeated throughout his speech. He first politely asked to thank fans from his native Puerto Rico by addressing them in Spanish. And then thanking them once again in English. Raised in Maguayo, Dorado, Puerto Rico, and now living in Seattle, he called both places home.
“Thank you for providing a sanctuary for me to grow up,” he said.
Perhaps more than any speech given by a player on this day, Martinez’s wasn’t so much about him and what he’d done in the game – accomplishments even today’s best players will never replicate – but what others had done, enabling him to achieve those feats. He barely mentioned one of his accomplishments unless it was in reference to someone who helped him.
He took time to thank Marty Martinez, the Mariners’ area scout in Puerto Rico, who first saw Edgar play and offered him a free-agent contract to sign as a 19-year-old.
“Marty was the scout that signed me and he saw something in me that others didn’t see,” he said. “I didn’t have the classic homer power, but used the whole field. I didn’t have a lot of range in the field, but I would make the plays. I didn’t have a cannon for an arm, but I was very accurate with my throws. Marty saw my consistency and potential.”
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