Unless you count being struck in the head by a foul ball Friday at Wrigley Field, Jose Martinez hadn’t had seen much game action lately coming into Monday against the Rockies. Across the Cardinals’ previous eight games, Martinez had appeared in just one of them, earning a couple late inning plate appearances off the bench last Wednesday.
Still, when his number was called to pinch-hit for Mike Leake in the seventh inning Monday at Busch Stadium, Martinez was ready. On a 1-0 pitch, he launched his sixth home run of the season to extend the St. Louis lead to 5-0, and followed up the mammoth swing with one of the swiftest home run trots (or sprints) you’ve seen all season.
If anything, it was an indication of how seriously Martinez takes his role with the team, no matter how diminished that role may at times seem.
“You’ve got to be ready for whatever,” Martinez said. “There’s going to be nine warriors out there; if I’m not one of the nine, I can be off the bench and try to help. That’s been part of my job, and it’s been part of my job from the first day so I cannot be surprised."
Martinez’s choice to view baseball as a battle waged alongside his fellow warriors is no coincidence. It’s a reflection of his current mindset, as his thoughts these days constantly wander thousands of miles from Busch Stadium, to his home country of Venezuela where civil unrest boils over.
Government opponents have staged ongoing protests as significant inflation has contributed to shortages of food, medicine, and other necessary goods for citizens. According to ABC News, at least 97 have died and thousands more have been injured or detained during the period of protests.
President Nicolás Maduro has disregarded decisions made by Venezuelan Congress, and has recently promised to rewrite the country’s constitution, inspiring further protests throughout Venezuela. According to the Wall Street Journal, 6.5 million citizens in Venezuela voted in an unauthorized referendum last Sunday on the decision, with 98% of voters rejecting the government’s proposal.
For Martinez, his effort on the field is his way to identify with the brave men and women back in Venezuela, fighting for justice for the people of his native country.
“I was so happy, man,” Martinez said of his race around the bases following the homer. “I’ve got to say it, there’s been a lot of stuff happening to me back home. For that, I’m just dedicating everything for all the people in Venezuela. Those fighters out there, man. They’re just fighting for a better country. For me, I’ve been keeping track of that, and then hitting a homer–like, it inspires me for them. If I’m here, I’m fighting. Stay over there, they’re fighting too. It’s a pretty special moment.”
Martinez spoke to reporters wearing a blue t-shirt featuring the word “Forever,” the ‘V’ resembling the logo of the Venezuelan national team in bright yellow. He lamented the struggle of managing his baseball responsibilities while knowing of the heartbreaking conditions enduring in his homeland.
“It’s a lot,” Martinez said of trying to focus on baseball amid everything else. “My whole family is over there and I am always trying to keep track of them, and if they’re okay. It’s a lot of stuff. My hope is for everything to get better over there and for me to concentrate more, and do my job better.”
Part of Martinez’s job, at this point, must extend beyond the white lines–and he knows it. He emphatically expressed his responsibility to use his platform to speak out against these injustices, in hopes that the nation can move toward a resolution to the conflict soon.
“They’re fighting for my son,” Martinez said. “They’re fighting for my family. Being here, I’m always going to support them by saying stuff, saying whatever I have to say to get change. It’s not just for my family. It’s for the whole country, so it’s a pretty special moment today (to hit that home run)."
Martinez is not alone in his public censure of the Venezuelan regime; other Venezuelans in baseball have spoke out as well, including Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who posted to Instagram in May a photo with the translation “Do we call it a dictatorship or not yet?”
“You cannot have all the power,” Martinez said, offering an explanation for the cause of the strife. “That’s all it is. If you want to hold the power, you’re going to have to give something for the people. That’s a fair way to explain it. People cannot be making lines for food or medicine. Hospitals cannot be without whatever they need. People are dying, people are needing for food–they’re hungry.
“Now, we’re trying to get together to have a bigger voice, for attention. Everyone knows what’s going on: we need some more help. This month coming up is going to be very ugly over there. I hope nothing worse happens, but my mind is over there. And I hope everything gets better.”