Double Play -- Cousin Carmelo Talked Edgar Martinez Into Taking A Chance, Signing With M's

PEORIA, Ariz. - Watching Edgar Martinez, all veteran grace and unassuming competence, it is hard to imagine the skinny kid who hurried to a Mariner tryout camp so many years ago.

It is with relief the Seattle Mariners look upon their defending American League batting champion, whose achievement ranks as one of the highest achievements in franchise history.

Edgar Martinez nearly didn't get that tryout in December 1982. And once he did, he nearly didn't sign.

"The scouts down there thought Edgar was too slow, too weak," said Carmelo Martinez, a cousin and eight-year major-league veteran invited to the Seattle camp. "I even tried to convince the guy who had signed me for the Cubs that Edgar was a good player who deserved a chance. Nothing seemed to work."

Carmelo knew. Two years older than Edgar, he and his cousin had grown up together in Dorado, Puerto Rico, related through grandfathers who were brothers and connected through a love of baseball.

"We played Little League together, against each other," Carmelo said. "Edgar was an infielder, of course. And he pitched. He had a good arm. But could he hit, any pitch to any field. He could always hit."

Between games, they pitched to each other. They threw balls, rocks, bottle caps. "Bottle caps were great training for hitting breaking balls, they curved so much," Carmelo said.

Edgar remembers the rocks most of all. The ones from the backyard of his grandparents' home.

"The place was all dug up because my grandfather was always doing some sort of building work," he said. "I'd go out with a broomstick and hit the rocks all over, try for open space. I never broke any windows or anything but the neighbors did complain. I kept doing it and I think I actually cleared out all the rocks."

When they are home, they still throw to each other. Now it is plastic balls wrapped in tape. Right-handed hitters, now they each hit left-handed. "We're too quick the natural way," Carmelo said. "But this is good for hand-eye coordination, too."

The ball and bottle-cap routine worked for Carmelo, who signed in 1978. But no team gave much thought to Edgar, who went about his life, attending American College in Puerto Rico, working the night shift in a pharmaceutical factory, and playing ball for a semipro team.

"And taking care of the family," Carmelo said. "Edgar always took care of the family, his grandparents and all. He worked to help out."

Edgar's grandparents, Mario Salgado and Manuela Rivera, are the key figures in Edgar's upbringing. They took him in along with his brother and sister when their parents split in New York City. When the parents got back together and were returning to New York City, Edgar chose to stay. "I was 11 then," he recalled. "My grandparents were not well and I felt I had to take care of them."

Winters when Carmelo came home, he and Edgar worked out together. "He wanted to know everything I was taught by the pros," Carmelo said. "Exercises, fielding drills and batting techniques, always batting techniques. I taught him all I could."

All Edgar needed was someone to see what he had. It did not happen for years. Then when Edgar was 20, late by Puerto Rican standards, Mariner scout Marty Martinez held a tryout camp in Dorado.

He had heard about the kid who could hit, but who had no speed and less power.

"But I never did listen much to other scouts," said the Mariner scout, instructor and coach. "I had my own ideas on things."

Edgar, doubtful because of the knocks on his abilities, thought he should not go to the tryout.

"I knew I'd have to leave the family behind," he said. "My grandmother was not well. Both she and my grandfather were getting older. I was in school, had a job. It didn't seem to be worth the risk to go."

The owner of Edgar's semipro team convinced him to attend the tryout, which was at 8 on a Sunday morning. Edgar worked through the night before it.

"I was on the 11-7 shift at the factory," Edgar said. "I got off work that morning, rushed home for my uniform and equipment and something to eat."

Whatever he did, something worked. Marty Martinez was impressed.

"I liked his bat, of course," he said. "I liked his hands. And he threw the ball so accurately. A little, funny motion but perfect to first base all the time.

"I thought he'd make a good middle infielder."

He offered Edgar $4,000, which was less than the $5,000 he gave to another prospect from that tryout, Luis Vega. Edgar thought he should get as much as Vega.

"You know," Marty Martinez said with a laugh, "the Mariners were trying to save a buck back then. But if Edgar had pushed me I'd have given him the other $1,000." Carmelo did the pushing. He had to talk Edgar into signing.

"He was the one who kept saying `take the chance, you can make it,' " Edgar said. "I did not know. Finally, I decided to try it. But Carmelo . . . he kind of made the decision for me."

Looking back, Edgar said he never regretted the decision to sign. Not even during that raw rookie season of 1983 in Bellingham, where he spoke not a word of English and hit only .173.

"I always remember how close I came to staying to work at the factory," Edgar said. "I see people working regular jobs and realize you never know what is going to happen."

Unless one counts games under the lights, Edgar will never work a night shift again. He went on to hit .303 the next year at Wausau and has hit more than .300 every year since, culminating with .343 last year, the highest by a right-handed batting champion in the American League in 34 years.

And a strange thing happened between him and Carmelo, who explained, "Eventually, it became obvious that he was a much better hitter than me. So I started to go to him for advice even when I had been in the big leagues three or four years and he was still in the minors. He'd never come to me with a suggestion. He never has put himself on other people. But he did all he could for me when I asked."

Said Edgar: "That was a strange feeling when Carmelo started to ask me for help. My cousin was my hero when I was a little kid, my inspiration as I grew up. He is the one who taught me to hit and is still the only batting coach I've ever had. It was like when a kid has to tell his parents what to do when they get old. It was strange to reverse the roles."

A lot of people look to Edgar for advice now. Batting crowns tend to draw attention, not to mention lucrative long-term contracts. Edgar, now 30, signed a three-year extension for $14 million last August

Asked then what he would do with the money, Edgar's immediate response was, "buy heart medicina for his grandmother." Carmelo said he has spent $1,000 a month for years for that medicine. Edgar also had his grandparents' house rebuilt so the whole family could live comfortably together.

Edgar, who married Holly Beeler of Seattle last year, never would ask for more than he had then, the lifelong ability to care for his family here and in Dorado. But in one of life's twists, his grandfather died in the fall and his grandmother suffered a stroke the day of her husband's funeral.

"It's life, I guess," Edgar says, with a shake of his head. "It's sad. It was hard to lose my grandfather. All I could do was make sure he knew he would die without debt. He used to worry about leaving my grandmother without security.

"It hurts to see my grandmother like this. She has security and is home now and my mother and aunt take care of her. But she can't do anything for herself."

But for the sake of that security, Edgar must push the tragedies and other distractions from his mind to earn his salary and play up to what people now expect.

"I don't think you'll see Edgar approach the season like a defense of his batting title," Carmelo said. "He's never changed since I've known him. He's always been a steady hitter, taking the ball to all fields.

"Just like he's always been the same great guy. He'll never change. Everyone is so proud of him. But I don't think anyone could be prouder than me."