NEW YORK — Some of the most memorable moments of Tino Martinez’s life were packed into one hectic day: Dec. 7, 1995.
It was his 28th birthday. His daughter, Victoria, was born. And he was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees.
Nearly two decades later, Martinez, a Tampa resident, was honored by the Yankees with a plaque to be placed in Monument Park.
The slugger’s tenure in pinstripes was celebrated during a 17-minute ceremony on the field before New York hosted the Baltimore Orioles. The former first baseman credited his teammates and said he never dreamed of such a moment back when he was playing.
“I’m totally overwhelmed,” Martinez told the sellout crowd of 47,165 from a podium near home plate. “I’m honored and humbled by it, but as I said, it’s really a result of the success of the team I played on.”
Martinez’s plaque becomes the 27th located in the elegant area behind the center-field fence at Yankee Stadium, where all-time greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are feted with monuments, along with late owner George Steinbrenner.
A clutch hitter with left-handed power, Martinez helped the Yankees win four World Series championships and five AL pennants from 1996-2001. He returned for a seventh season with New York in 2005 and finished his Yankees career with a .276 batting average, 192 homers and 739 RBIs.
Two of his signature swings were postseason home runs at the previous Yankee Stadium — a go-ahead grand slam in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series against San Diego, and a tying homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against Arizona.
When he learned the Mariners were planning to trade him after the 1995 season, Martinez told Seattle manager Lou Piniella he would like to go to New York. That meant replacing retiring Yankees captain Don Mattingly at first base, but Martinez took on that unenviable task and soon became a fan favorite himself.
“The team rallied around Tino,” former Yankees pitcher David Cone said. “Tino was the key power piece in the middle of that lineup that really set up that run.”
The tribute to Martinez was part of a weekend when history is taking center stage at Yankee Stadium.
Hall of Fame reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage also will receive a Monument Park plaque Sunday as part of Old-Timers’ Day festivities. There will be a similar ceremony for Martinez’s former teammate, Paul O’Neill, on Aug. 9 — and ex-manager Joe Torre will have his No. 6 retired on Aug. 23. Bernie Williams will be recognized next year.
Torre, currently Major League Baseball’s executive vice president for baseball operations, will also be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 27.
Torre was on hand Saturday along with several of his former players who were Martinez’s teammates, including O’Neill, Cone, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Derek Jeter, playing his final season, escorted Martinez’s wife, Marie, to her seat on the field and presented him with a replica of the plaque Martinez unveiled himself in front of the mound.
Moments later, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“This has been the most incredible ride of my life, playing for the New York Yankees,” Martinez said.
Martinez recalled he was at the Masters in April when the Yankees called to tell him they were going to give him a plaque in Monument Park. He said he was shocked and stunned.
“I was speechless,” he said. “I still can’t believe it.”
Martinez said every time he comes to Yankee Stadium, he will go out to Monument Park to prove to himself it’s actually there, alongside tributes to all those Yankees greats.