SEATTLE — For a moment, in the serenading cheers of Ed-gaaaar, Ed-gaaar, Ed-gaaaar, it brought people back there again. Back to a time when the lines at the edges of his eyes only appeared when he offered up that easy smile, usually with a bat in his hand or nearby.
The sold-out crowd at Safeco Field, there to see Edgar Martinez’s jersey retired, made it feel like 2001 again on Saturday night — the place to be in Seattle on a warm summer night.
And as the Mariners’ big screen played highlights of that magnificent swing that couldn’t be imitated in its simplicity or the results it produced — hands held high, making the bat wave ominously but staying in the strike zone longer than anyone else — people wanted to live in that uncomplicated moment forever.
Seeing the repetitive pasting of baseballs into the gap in right-center, all line drives, all uncatchable, it evoked emotion-filled memories that made skin tingle and bodies pulse.
His introduction was greeted with a roar and a continuous standing ovation as he walked in from center field to the infield area, carefully waving to all parts of the crowd celebrating with him.
There have been players with more talent and better numbers in baseball, but the meaning of Edgar Martinez to the Seattle Mariners isn’t easily explained. And Mariners fans don’t feel the need to justify their devotion to the man that delivered the double that saved baseball in Seattle in 1995 and stayed well beyond.
The organization, the only one that Martinez ever played for, spared no expense in honoring its current hitting coach and franchise icon. From the plane circling Safeco Field pregame with a No. 11 flag trailing behind it to the pregame video narrated by Cal Ripken Jr., which tried to encapsulate all that Martinez had done and meant to the organization, it was done with care and thought.
“Every day, every day the lights came on, every day the work was put in for the moment, for the burst of brilliance that saved Seattle baseball,” Ripken read. “Swing by swing, day by day and season by season, Edgar Martinez was pure dedication, always prepared to write Mariners history.”
Seated next to his wife, Holli, in a gray suit with dark sunglasses to hide some tears that he pushed away with his meaty fingers, Martinez watched and smiled, still in a surreal state. Was this really all for him?
Always humble and never quite a fan of the spotlight unless it was shining on the right-handed batter’s box, Martinez admittedly in the weeks leading up to it tried not to focus on the entire weekend dedicated to him.
As hitting coach for a team trying return to the postseason for the time since he was its designated hitter, his priorities have been elsewhere. But in typical diligent Martinez fashion, he had taken time to think and write down parts of his speech each day. It was a process akin to his cage work and batting practice.
When he took the microphone, he spoke slowly trying to make sure his Puerto Rican accent remained clear to everyone. Of course, he wouldn’t forget his roots. With extended family having made the trek from Puerto Rico sitting nearby and waving small flags of their territory, he spoke to them in Spanish, thanking them for attending and their support.
Martinez retold the story of how his cousin and former big-leaguer, Carmelo Martinez, who was seated just to his right, had convinced him to not be satisfied with the comfortable life he was living and sign with the Mariners after being offered a contract and a $4,000 signing bonus after participating in an open tryout.
“Thank you, Carmelo,” he said
And a boisterous fan speaking for so many Mariners’ fans followed suit.
“Thank you, Carmelo!” he screamed, drawing a laugh and cheer from the crowd.
He then carefully thanked everyone with the Mariners organization and past teammates, some were mentioned specifically, others were not. He addressed his fellow members of the Mariners’ Hall of Fame with kind words for each.
After mentioning his former teammates, he turned to the current Mariners, who he tirelessly works with on a daily basis.
“Let’s take the challenge,” he said. “We have a month and a half to go. It’s a challenge like any competition; let’s look at it in a positive way. Let’s compete one pitch at a time. Like our manager (Scott) Servais and the slogan he gave us, ‘Let’s bring it.’ ”
Martinez wouldn’t allow himself to close without the real reason he was standing in that moment.
“Baseball, what a wonderful game,” he said. “Because of baseball, I met my wife, I have a wonderful family, I have all these awards, a street, number retired, I live in an area that is beautiful, beautiful lake, beautiful mountains and beautiful people. I am blessed. When I thought that baseball had given me everything it had, it gave me more.”
And he closed by recognizing the Mariners’ fans — the 45,000-plus jammed into Safeco and the others that he accumulated in his brilliant career that loved him for his consistency, his quiet and unassuming personality and his loyalty to them.
“I’m so fortunate to play in front of you for 18 years,” he said. “Thank you for taking me as one of your own and welcoming me into your homes. You were a force that kept me going. I am so grateful. Thank you, thank you Seattle.”
If the city of Seattle could respond, it would say: “No … Thank you, Edgar.”