In an obvious oversight by the Tribe front office, Sunday, September 16th’s game at 1:10pm at Progressive Field has been declared as Victor Martinez Day (by me), to celebrate his last game at the ballpark he called home for 8 years from 2002-2009.
(Update: Looks like the front office saw this article early Saturday morning, took action and honored Victor today. Well done! I now declare this Victor Martinez Weekend!)
Victor is ending a 16 season career that saw him play for Cleveland, Boston and Detroit. Now comes the laundry list of achievements:
lifetime .295 hitter, .360 OBP
up until 2016 was a hitting over .300 from both sides of the plate for his career
5 All Star games
2nd in MVP voting 2014
2 Silver Slugger awards
voted in Top 25 MVP voting 6 times
729 career walks to only 889 career strike outs
While talking to the Detroit News a few weeks ago, VMart expounded on his career and chase for a World Series’ title that never came:
"I think everybody wishes for a ring," he said Saturday in Minneapolis. "But when I say I am going to leave with no regrets; I know I did everything I could do, individually. I was a guy who didn’t take long vacations, just two or three weeks off after the season and then start working out again. And I was like that for 16 years. At the end of the day, this is not a one-man or two-man sport. I did what I could to get that ring; I really did. But you know what, I am going to go home happy."
And as the great ones do, Martinez elevated his game at peak moments in the playoffs, hitting .315 with 6 HRs and 22 RBIs in 39 playoff games. While injuries have cut his career and potential Hall-of-Fame chances down, Victor has always approached the game with a professionalism that is rare in today's game.
Always humble and sentimental, it wasn't uncommon for Martinez to walk the areas around Jacobs' Field and downtown on road trips to Cleveland through the years, soaking in the memories of his early baseball years here. Victor was an undrafted free agent from Venezuela in 1996. While he was a shortstop in his teen years, he was transitioned into a catcher in the Tribe system and was a September call-up in 2002. 2004 was where Victor took hold of his status on the Indians in his first full season, hitting 23 HR with 108 RBIs (an Indians' record for a catcher).
The VMart story in Cleveland was a joyous one, with a painful ending. Victor was team captain and unequivocal leader of a team that came within an eyelash of making the World Series in 2007 (one that surely they would have won against the woeful Colorado Rockies). Burned in my memory is the look on Victor’s face of disappointment and sadness on the top step of the dugout as the Red Sox closed out game 7 of the ALCS. It was a rare look inside a player that actually felt the pain that the fans were going through at that very moment.
The Tribe took huge steps backward in 2008 and 2009, so Mark Shapiro traded our captain, our heart, and our soul to those same Red Sox for Nick Hagadone, Justin Masterson and Bryan Price. The return was uninspiring and had an almost a funeral-like feel. To Tribe fans that understood the importance of a real, live leader in the dugout, locker room and on the field, that trade tore our hearts out and meant another rebuild that we had just gone through 8 years before. Oh, the pain.
He cried in his exit interviews with the Indians’ press corps. What player does that? What refreshing human honesty. It was positively devastating and soul-crushing to most fans at the time. He still had a very manageable salary and year and a half left on his contract. Oh, the pain.
Victor learned so much about the game from his teammate, Omar Vizquel. Reminiscing about the start of his career with the Indians he would marvel at Omar’s preparation and approach to the game: "I’d be sitting at my locker and there’s Omar, 10 years in the big leagues," Martinez said. "Ten years in the big leagues and he’s getting to the park at 2:30 p.m. That tells me I have to be here earlier. He’s been in the big leagues 10 years for a reason."
If you happen to be at the game this coming Sunday, get out of your chairs and give Victor the ovation he so richly deserves. He gave his heart and soul to the fans for his first 8 years here. You deserved better from us, Victor.
El Capitan, we salute you.