Edgar Martinez had a blessed baseball career, one that has earned him a street in his honor outside Safeco Field and an award for designated hitters in his name, brought him to the brink of Cooperstown and won him a lifetime of affection in his adopted hometown.
“When I reflect, that’s where my mind tends to go,” Martinez said this week from the Oakland Coliseum just before heading off to batting practice in his current job as the Mariners’ hitting coach. “All the hard work in the minor leagues. Those were the times I didn’t have any idea of what was going to happen in the future.”
What would happen, of course, was two batting titles, a Hall of Fame statistical portfolio and the most famous hit in Mariners history. Martinez was the rare guy that would draw opposing players to the bench during batting practice to try to glean some mechanical tip, but mostly just to admire an artist at work.
In talking this week to former Mariners manager Lou Piniella, who regretfully will miss this weekend because of illness, I could hear the reverence for the man they called “Papi” long before David Ortiz earned a similar honorific.
“If every player I ever managed was just like Edgar, believe me, I would have never had any problems,” Piniella said.
Another obstacle presented itself in the minor leagues when the Mariners’ new eye specialist, Dr. Douglas Nikaitani, diagnosed Martinez with strabismus, a condition that prevents his eyes from seeing in tandem. Nikaitani still hasn’t heard of another MLB hitter who has successfully conquered the abnormality, as Martinez did.
The doctor, early in his tenure, told Martinez he would do everything he could to help him, and Edgar eagerly bought in. During his career, he would faithfully do the eye exercises that Nikaitani prescribed for him, up to 30 minutes a night, and it allowed him to overcome the issues with depth perception and focus inherent in strabismus.