TAMPA — He's only 46. And he'll be forever young here in his hometown. Tino Martinez has always been a source of local pride, be it at Tampa Catholic or Jefferson high schools, or the University of Tampa, or during a wonderful 16-year major-league baseball career. A Tampa kid who made good.
Now he's made bronze.
Saturday in the Bronx, Constantino “Tino” Martinez will be honored by the Yankees, his team for seven seasons, his team when he won four World Series rings. Honored and then some. Tino Martinez is getting a plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.
It's Tino Day.
It's the next-best thing to Cooperstown.
“The Baseball Hall of Fame is obviously a great accomplishment,” Martinez said. “But to be in Monument Park, there's nothing better than that. Nothing.”
He got the news in April. The Yankees phoned. Martinez thought it would be about making an appearance for the team, which he does from time to time. Instead, it was monumental. Martinez called back a half-hour later to make sure it was for real.
“I was stunned, floored,” he said. “I've never felt like that in my life. ... When I called my older daughter, she started crying. She told me, 'Dad, you're going to be there forever.' ”
Here are some of the names on some of the monuments in Monument Park, just beyond the center-field fence at Yankee Stadium: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle. Here are some of the names on plaques Martinez is joining in Monument Park: Ford, Rizzuto, Munson, Dickey, Gomez, Berra, Jackson, Maris, Howard, Mattingly.
Yankees Hall of Fame reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage will get a plaque the day after Martinez. Later this summer, Paul O'Neill, who played with Martinez in New York, will get one. So will their manager, Joe Torre, who also will have his uniform No. 6 retired.
First comes Tino Day.
Tino Martinez delivered for the Yankees from the moment he hit New York in 1996. He stepped in at first base for the retiring Don Mattingly and the Yankees went from there, with Martinez an anchor, along with a rookie who arrived at the same time: Derek Jeter.
In his seven seasons with New York, Martinez hit 192 home runs and had 739 RBIs. There were mighty Tino moments, like his grand slam in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series to beat the Padres, and his dramatic ninth-inning home run to tie Game 4 of the 2001 Series against Arizona, a game later won on a Jeter homer.
Those Yankees revived the franchise brand, winning four world championships, including three in a row. For all the stars, those clubs had a working-man's ethos, personified by the low-key Martinez, always a Yankees fan favorite.
“I was talking to David Cone and he told me, 'You represent all of us,' ” Martinez said. “I think I'm going there as part of that team. We expected to win, and we wanted to win. Quality guys. No flashy players. We didn't have any Mike Trouts, basically. But every day, those guys came to play. That was the most amazing thing I've ever been a part of.”
Saturday will be another first for Tampa Tino.
Last month, he became ... a doctor.
Martinez received an honorary doctorate of humane letters and delivered the keynote address during commencement exercises at Fordham University. His oldest daughter, Olivia, was among the graduates. Martinez spoke while wearing a Fordham baseball hat, but never mentioned baseball, not even the Yankees, though he was back in the Bronx. He told graduates to reach for everything they can, no matter where it takes them. He was more nervous before that speech than for any World Series game.
“No doubt,” Martinez said. “There were probably 12,000 people there, students, parents, alumni. The place was packed.”
“My son calls me 'Doc' every once in a while,” Martinez said with a grin.
He played for the Cardinals and even the Devil Rays before returning to New York. He retired as a Yankee in 2006. He has forever been happily married to Marie. Their son, T.J., attends the University of North Carolina. Victoria, who just graduated from Academy of the Holy Names, is heading to the University of Texas on a rowing scholarship.
Tampa Tino's life today seems worlds away from last July, when he abruptly resigned in the middle of his first season as Miami Marlins hitting coach after some confrontations with younger players. Martinez won't dwell on it (“I've moved forward”) and hasn't ruled out a return to baseball.
Saturday is Tino Day. The Martinez clan, including Tino's mother, Sylvia, and friends, will be at Yankee Stadium. Growing up, Tino Martinez worked at a West Tampa cigar factory. His late father, Rene, had Tino and his brothers loading and unloading trucks all summer long in that blazing heat. They were important lessons. Constantino Martinez dreamed big and put in all the work to get there. That's a monument all by itself.
And now he has a plaque.
Congratulations, Dr. Martinez.