"There's no crying in baseball."
First snarled by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, and since quoted endlessly as a jeer, a balm, and everything else in between. It's what my dad repeated to me throughout my childhood, no matter the sport, when I returned from an endeavor in tears. It trips through my mind each time I feel myself begin to get emotional at a time that feels silly, or inappropriate.
This quote is true only in its original iteration. You really shouldn't be crying while playing baseball, because the tears blur your vision and compromised sight is a dangerous disadvantage when you're around violent projectiles. But if your tears don't put you at risk of direct bodily harm? Let them flow freely.
I've cried because of baseball three times in the last seven years. Once in 2014, as Félix Hernández exited Game 162; once this April, when the Mariners first DFAd Leonys Martin; and once at the end of July, when Martin homered in his second at-bat back with the major league club. He plays the game with the kind of enthusiasm and emotion that you cannot help but return.
Martin felt special from the start; it was his acquisition that signaled a new mentality for the team's new regime. He arrived with a highlight reel of spectacular defensive plays, and a boatload of concerns about his offense. Last May these concerns seemed comical, as he slashed .320/.358/.533 with a 153 wRC+. This kind of production wasn't sustainable, and he struggled towards the end of the season, and well into this year. Fangraphs will remember him as a .210/.263/.332 player in his time with Seattle, but I'm certain that's not the first thing any fan of this era will associate with him. He was not a great player, but man was he great to watch.
Despite his struggles, he was a part of some of the best moments in recent Mariners baseball memory. There was the first walk-off, on a Tuesday night against the A's, a game I'll remember for the rest of my life, that seemed to represent the beginning of a new era of baseball in Seattle. There was that second walk-off against the White Sox, and his two-run "to the gap, to the gap, to the gap" double off a 100 MPH Aroldis Chapman fastball against the Cubs. There was the historic comeback against San Diego, when he didn't play a single inning but was credited by many of his teammates for encouraging them to never give up. Every shot of the dugout from that game features Martin perched along the rail, cheering on his team.
His birthday fell during Spring Training this year, and he was gifted a sombrero and a mariachi band that serenaded him throughout the team's workouts that day. In an Instagram post later that day he called the gift "one of the best moments in baseball of my entire career." During his first game back from Tacoma, he made a sprawling catch in right field and shortly thereafter launched a home run over the right field fence. Safeco was packed and the crowd roared with his return; I was sitting in the press box, trying to maintain a smidge of decorum. A few days later he homered in Oakland, in the eleventh inning, for what would be the game-winning run.
Leonys Martin is all that we love about baseball; passion, joy, triumph, and unabashed enthusiasm. From a traumatic defection from Cuba, to late inning heroics, he has persevered; when I think of him I think of hope, and when I think of hope I think of Emily Dickinson. It's an odd pairing, a modern Cuban baseball player and an American poet from the nineteenth century, but also the most fitting salute that I could give.
"'Hope'" is the thing with feathers-/That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words-/And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -/And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird/That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -/And on the strangest SEA -
Yet - never - in Extremity,/It asked a crumb - of me."
Thank you, Leonys.