COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Edgar Martinez batted cleanup one last time on Sunday, and delivered another in a long line of clutch performances.
But before he gave his heartfelt, poignant speech — as the fourth of six players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on this sweltering afternoon — Martinez faced an unexpected challenge.
Handed the plaque emblazoned with his name, the one that as of Monday will hang for perpetuity in the Hall of Fame museum, Martinez was taken aback by its literal heft. The figurative weightiness of joining baseball most exclusive club was something he had begun to slowly process starting six months ago when he got the call that he had finally — after 10 long years of waiting — been elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“It was incredible to see the plaque, but the first thing I noticed, it’s got to be 40 pounds,’’ Martinez said at a news conference afterward. “That thing is heavy. I was getting cramps in my biceps. But it’s a great feeling. It really is. It’s amazing, and something I haven’t felt before.”
The estimated crowd of 55,000 onlookers at the Clark Sports Center, second-largest in induction history, was decked out in the garb of the numerous teams represented by honorees Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Harold Baines, Lee Smith and Mariano Rivera. But a large and boisterous contingent of Mariners fans, which came to adore him during his 18 years in Seattle, made its presence felt — and heard — with the familiar “Ed-garrrr” chant. That’s how Martinez was often serenaded during his time with the Mariners, the only team he ever played for.
That was moving to Martinez — but also threatened to disrupt his well-practiced equanimity.
“It felt pretty awesome to see the fans and hear the chant again,’’ he said. “I felt a little emotional — and then I said, ‘OK, you’ve got to go do the task.’ ”
In his 12-minute speech — more or less hitting the targeted time exactly — Martinez was gracious in acknowledging the scouts, coaches, managers and teammates who he said paved the way for his success. That included Jay Buhner, who provided Martinez’s videotaped introduction that concluded, “God, there’s nobody better than Edgar. I love him.”
Martinez saluted the Maguayo neighborhood in Dorado, Puerto Rico, where he grew up, including a section of the speech delivered in Spanish.
“It was hard to believe that a dream that started when I was about 10 years old,’’ he said, “would take me on an amazing journey and would culminate on this stage.”
Martinez also displayed humor and humility in congratulating his fellow nominees.
Of Rivera, the first unanimous selection of the BBWAA, against whom Martinez famously had tremendous success — a .579 batting average — he said: “I would change all my hits for my last at-bat in the 2001 playoff. With the game on the line, you got me out with a sinker. I didn’t even know you had a sinker.”
And of the great closer Lee Smith, Martinez said: “I didn’t get the chance to face you that much, and I’m so glad” — the latter phrase coming after a pause of perfect comedic timing.
The second speech of the day, by Roy Halladay’s widow, Brandy, touched Martinez, as it did everyone who heard it. Not for the first or last time Sunday, Martinez felt the need to try to pull himself together so he would be prepared to deliver on the podium.
“Her speech was emotional, and I felt myself getting strong emotions as well,’’ he said afterward. “I fought through it until I felt better, and ready. But at times through those three hours, you have bursts of emotions. I was able to fight through it.”
The emotional center of Martinez’s own speech came when he movingly lauded his wife, Holli, and children Alex, Jacqueline and Tessa. He talked of Alex’s “great soul,” Tessa’s “natural grace, and how Jacqueline’s “personality fills our house.”
Of Holli, he said, “You are a dream partner, and I feel very lucky to have you. I love you.”
While his delivery was smooth and measured, Martinez said afterward he had to fight from breaking down when talking about his family.
“Always the family is the one that gets you,’’ he said.
Martinez had admittedly agonized over his speech for weeks, practicing and honing with the same attention to detail that marked his playing career. Once it was finished, he said, “Now I can breathe 100%. For the past three days, it’s like you’re holding some of your air. It’s a relief.”
He had also said that his Hall of Fame induction, after a long stretch in which he had sincere doubts about whether it would ever come, brings closure to his baseball career.
“I think from here, I’ll reflect back on how I got here, which is something that can be very rewarding, because it wasn’t easy,’’ he said at the news conference. “Coming out of Puerto Rico, where I grew up, speaking no English. By myself, basically, as a young kid. Going through the minor leagues, fighting through it, the ups and downs, and playing finally in the big leagues and having success.
“But it wasn’t easy, either. And finally, after 10 years, being here. It’s pretty incredible. It’s hard to believe, but it’s fun to think, go back, and rewind, and see how I got here.”
Here’s where Edgar Martinez is: Enshrined in the hallowed grounds of Cooperstown, symbolic of baseball royalty with a plaque for which he more than carried his weight.