Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez.

(Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Carlos Martinez Writes Article About Improbable Rise From Poverty To Pro

He was published by The Players' Tribune on Monday and shares stories about his childhood, growing up in one of the poorest sections of the Dominican Republic.

June 18, 2018 - 12:03 pm
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Monday on The Players' Tribune, St. Louis Cardinals' ace Carlos Martinez opened up about his journey from poverty in the Dominican Republic to the big leagues. In a moving piece, Martinez describes pitching in front of his childhood heroes Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz in his hometown, nearly becoming a priest, questioning the purpose of his life, and living his dream as an MLB pitcher. 

Below are some excerpts from the piece, which can be read, here.

Buying Mom A House To Escape The Rain

Martinez explains how he grew up in his grandmother's small two-room home in El Avispero, Dominican Republic. It was him, two brothers, an uncle, the wife of another uncle, and my grandma and grandpa and it was located in an area know as "The Wasp’s Nest" which is one of the poorest sections of the Dominican Republic.

He remembers that everytime it looked like it was about to rain his grandmother would go through an extensive routine of picking up everything off of the floor before a stream of dirty, polluted water flooded into their home. He said he cried and prayed so many times after the rain because watching what it did to his grandmother broke his heart.

Until eventually he became a talented baseball prospect, was signed by the Cardinals and given a contract and signing bonus. But even after she moved into the brand new house he bought her she still moved the furniture before it rained. 

Mommy was moving the furniture to higher ground because, well … that’s all she ever knew.

Like, when it starts clouding up … you move things off the floor so the polluted water does not ruin every single thing you own.

Tears started streaming down my face at that point.

It was just so sad to me that she had been programed to always expect the absolute worst out of life.

“Mommy,” I said, “you’re here in this nice place now. The water isn’t going to come in. The water cannot get you any longer.”

She quickly remembered where she was, and smiled. Then she took a deep breath and sat down on the couch and we talked about how everything was going to be better from then on.

Impressing David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez On The Mound

Martinez told the story of the first time that he met two of his baseball heros was when he was 16-years-old and playing short stop for the Boston Red Sox's Dominican academy. One day when he arrived at the field, he was surprisingly told to take the mound. He then put on a display that impressed both of the current MLB players who happened to be watching. 

When I start pitching, I’m very, very nervous, but I’m just trying my best to focus on the catcher and stay as calm as I can. I throw a pitch that seems O.K., and someone says “92” loud enough for everyone to hear. Just the number “92,” nothing more. Then another pitch … and again, “92.” Then again: “92.”

After my next pitch, the man with the radar gun yelled out “93,” and from there it just kept going up and up. The next inning, after I really had time to process that Pedro and Papi were watching me pitch, I was somehow up into the mid-90s.

I still remember that guy yelling out “96” … and not really believing my ears.

I was a shortstop. And I was tiny. But somehow, on that day, in front of two of my baseball idols, I found a way to step up to the mound and throw a baseball 96 miles per hour.

The story comes full circle when in the 2013 World Series, Martinez faced his idol, Ortiz, while pitching for the Cardinal. 

I was scared. Like, not just nervous … scared.

But the crazy thing is that when I was standing there getting ready to deliver that first pitch to him, I thought back to something Pedro told me all those years ago when he and Papi saw me pitch for the first time.

“Always remember, you are the one who has the ball. You are in control. And you have to make that clear to the batter and everyone else. It doesn’t matter who is in the batter’s box: your little brother, your son, your mom, your uncle, it makes no difference. Anyone you’re facing … they’re your enemy. And you are the one with the ball. You have to have the cojones to say, ‘I’m going to destroy that guy, I don’t care who he is.’ In order to have a shot, you must keep that level of confidence.”

So, in that moment, facing Papi in the World Series, I just tried to do everything I could to follow Pedro’s advice. And, with all due respect, I just said, “You may have seen me as a kid, but we’re on the same level now. And I have the ball. So you are going down.”

It was great.

I did everything just like Pedro said.

Then Papi … got a hit on the very first pitch I threw him.

Martinez Nearly Became A Priest

What started as a pratical joke that was played on him, turned into a possible future for Martinez when he joined a seminary for four years of his life. He says he was always praying for God's help when the rain that flooded his grandmother's home and whenever he needed some help on the baseball diamond. 

But when he was 12-years-old he made the decision to leave home to study and learn about the bible. He says he had one test to go after his four years at the seminary, but then there was a problem. 

I could no longer continue because of some problem with my birth certificate.

I was so close to being done. I didn’t think anything could stop me. But the head teacher brought me in and told me they needed proof of who I was. And at that point, I didn’t have it. My mom never registered my birth before she died, so my uncle had used a birth certificate of his step-child when anyone asked for my papers. When the seminary found out that was not me, and that I didn’t have a valid birth certificate, they said I couldn’t continue.

That moment was one of the lowest points in my life.

It was like I wasn’t even a person, and my thoughts were all so sad.

I have no mom. I have no dad. I have no record that I exist. I’m no one. What am I even doing here in this world?

I moved back in with my grandma. I had no other choice, really."

Martinez's mother died when he was just eight months old and he never knew his father. He has always called his grandmother his mom. 

St. Louis Provides Martinez's Happy Ending

Although his entire story is yet to be finished, the St. Louis Cardinals provided what could be the start of Martinez's happy ending. He says he didn't know much more about St. Louis other than that Albert Pujols played there, when the team signed him. 

But the one thing he was very much impressed by were the fans. 

Everyone I talked to, if I mentioned St. Louis, I’d always hear the same thing.

Great fans there!

They love their baseball.

Those people are … passionate.

Of course, I know now that everything people told me back then was an understatement. From the moment I got to town, people in St. Louis recognized me. And they always stop to say hello, or to wish me the best of luck. It makes me smile every time, and I always love talking and joking around with our fans and just having fun together.

They are a part of the team, as far as I’m concerned. And their enthusiasm is unmatched. Every time I take the mound, I’m reminded of just how lucky I am to be playing in front of Cardinals fans.