By IAN WILSON
It’s a long road from Crowchild Trail in Calgary to Atlantic Street in Seattle.
And for the man who would eventually have a section of that Emerald City street named after him, it was wrought with twists, detours and roadblocks.
Unlike Ken Griffey Jr., who made everything look so easy, including his journey to the big leagues, Edgar Martinez never took the express lane to stardom. His story is one of hard work, perseverance and the pursuit of perfection.
Despite their differing career paths, Edgar will see his No. 11 take its rightful place next to Junior’s No. 24 this weekend when his jersey is officially retired by the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.
And while Griffey Jr.’s talent allowed the 19-year-old to skip over Triple-A baseball in Calgary and make his Mariner debut in 1989, Martinez was on the verge of becoming a full-time major leaguer that same year, after putting in seven seasons of minor league service, including parts of four seasons with the Calgary Cannons of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).
By that point, Edgar had pretty much done everything there was to do at the Triple-A level.
Martinez first arrived at Calgary’s Foothills Stadium in 1985 at the age of 22, after being promoted from the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, and in 20 games with the Cannons that year he batted a healthy .353 and posted an on-base percentage of .450.
Those numbers foreshadowed the greatness that was to come, but the third baseman would spend all of 1986 in Chattanooga before returning to the Stampede City the following year.
In his 129 games with the Cannons in 1987, the New York-born Martinez finished second in PCL batting with a .329 batting average and was named team MVP.
Mario Diaz, the Cannons’ shortstop that year, played with Martinez in Chattanooga, Calgary and Seattle. The two Puerto Rican-raised ball players also roomed together for a year in the minors.
“I’ve known Edgar for a long time … he was always a good hitter,” Diaz told Alberta Dugout Stories.
“He’s a very quiet man. He doesn’t say much. But when it came to hitting, he knew his craft and he perfected it.”
So much so that when 1988 rolled around, Martinez wasn’t content with his achievements from the previous year.
That season he claimed the batting crown by upping his average to .363, got on base at a ridiculous .467 clip and was once again named player of the year for the Cannons.
“I never expected to win a batting title,” Martinez told Calgary Herald reporter Daryl Slade after collecting his MVP award. “I just wanted to put up some good numbers and I have been really comfortable at the plate.”
Concluded Slade in his April 9, 1989 article: “One might say he has outgrown the PCL.”
When Edgar returned to Calgary in mid May of the 1989 campaign it was as a member of the Seattle Mariners and he was facing many of his old Cannons teammates in an exhibition game that drew 6,496 fans to Foothills Stadium.
Calgarians were eager to get a look at Griffey Jr., the first overall pick from 1987 who had spent a mere 17 games in Double-A before bypassing the Cannons for the Mariners.
It was the moustachioed one, however, who put on a show that night, hitting a home run and going 2-for-2 in six innings of work.
After years of toiling in the minors, “Gar” finally appeared ready to wrest third base from Mariner veteran Jim Presley, whose production had been steadily declining during Martinez’s time in Calgary.
But just a few weeks after his impressive display against the Cannons, Martinez returned to Alberta to play for his former Triple-A club.
“It is kind of tough to come back, but I’ll just have to go out and play hard and try to find my way back to the big leagues. Hopefully soon,” the right-handed batting ace told the Herald of his demotion.
Presley was still able to outperform Martinez at that point, and the M’s opted to add another pitcher to their roster, meaning the future two-time American League batting champ was once again manning third base for the Cannons.
“Edgar’s a ball player. He’s not one to pout when he’s sent down,” Calgary manager Rich Morales told Slade. “We feel good when we get a player of that calibre. It’s unfortunate for Edgar, but he’ll do the job.”
Indeed he did do the job, and not even a month later he was back with the Mariners and tearing it up at the plate. During a series in Toronto, he went 6-for-13 and drove in six runs against the Blue Jays.
“I got my swing back,” Martinez told the Canadian Press after an 8-2 victory over the Jays. “In Calgary I got a chance to play every day. I got a good feeling about myself and carried that same feeling over here … I put things together there. That gave me the chance to play here again.”
While Edgar was close to putting everything together and he had set the table for a fantastic 18-year MLB career in Seattle, he would suit up for the Cannons one last time in September of 1989.
This time, he had his sights set on a PCL championship.
“It’s something real important to me. I really want that ring and a championship for Calgary,” Martinez told the Herald. Unfortunately, the Vancouver Canadians had other plans and ended up sweeping the Cannons in three games.
Despite the playoff disappointment, Edgar’s work in Calgary was done. When he left for the majors for good in 1990 he had played 276 games for the Cannons and racked up 327 hits, making him the team’s all-time hits leader.
His Triple-A performance earned him an induction in the PCL Hall of Fame in 2013 and his former teammate Diaz believes one more Hall of Fame induction awaits.
“He came up as a third baseman and he got hurt and that’s how he became a DH,” said Diaz, who works with the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Academy Super Camps each summer, helping children across Canada hone their baseball skills.
“I always believed if he was a third baseman everyday he could’ve made the Hall of Fame.”
Diaz considers Martinez to be one of the two best hitters he’s ever seen, naming National Baseball Hall of Famer and current Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor as the other.
Edgar’s long-time manager in Seattle, Lou Piniella, also believes that Martinez should not be punished for shifting from third base to designated hitter after injuries began to take a toll.
“I have no doubt that decision enabled Edgar to play in the majors until he was forty-one and accumulate the stats – .312, 2,247 hits, 309 homers, .933 OPS, and a 21st all-time .417 on-base percentage – that made him most worthy of the Hall of Fame,” Piniella wrote in his 2017 book Lou: Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard, and Winning Big in the Sweet Spot of Baseball.
“Hopefully, what David Ortiz has accomplished as a likely first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee has put the DH in a new light with the voters, and Edgar will get his due.”