CARY, N.C. -- Angel Martinez grew up in the mild tropical marine climate of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, where the weather changes little from season to season.
And then he went to school to play baseball at Mercyhurst, located in Erie, Pennsylvania. Erie is a town just about as far removed from Vega Alta as it is possible to get, and in more ways than most of us could ever fathom. For starters, it gets hot there in the summer and cold in the winter.
It snows in Erie during the winter, and sometimes even the spring. Surely, this was a shock to his system. He’d never seen a snowflake before. Few could’ve blamed Martinez if he’d packed up his bags and headed back home to Puerto Rico the first good snowfall.
Millions of new college students have gotten homesick and left school over a lot less, but not Martinez.“If anybody’s complaining about the cold, here you have a guy who isn’t even used to it, never seen a snowflake in his life and he comes out here and he’s one of the hardest-nosed, toughest guys around,” said Lakers head baseball coach Joe Spano. “He’s the first one with a shovel when we’re shoveling the field. When people look at that, they think, ‘Wow. If a guy who isn’t used to this weather can do it, anybody can.’”
Off the field and still getting used to the English language, Martinez can be a man of few words. A smile comes easily to his face during a brief chat, even if his English doesn’t.
“It’s so cold,” Martinez said when asked about the climate at Mercyhurst. “Way different.”
Was that enough to make you miss Puerto Rico?
Do you enjoy shoveling snow?
Yeah, I do.
What does it mean to you to be here at the DII World Series?
It means a lot, excited.
What would you like for somebody reading this article to know about your team?
The chemistry we have together.
This is what’s truly special about Martinez. Despite the language barriers separating him from most if not all of his teammates, Martinez has managed to become a team leader at Mercyhurst.
He did so by example, and not with vocal macho bravado.
“Angel is just a terrific kid,” Spano added. “He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s picking up the language and the lingo, and he’s just doing a great job for us on the field and off. The guys just love him.
“He’s pretty soft-spoken and quiet, but when the time is right, he’ll just say something … he knows exactly what to say to make everybody laugh. He just really livens up the team.”
It wasn’t by accident that Martinez wound up at Mercyhurst. His dad, also named Angel, played baseball at Ohio Dominican before being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He wanted his son to have the same opportunities he’d had, so the younger Martinez headed first to a Mercyhurst satellite junior college campus to get an associate’s degree before joining the Lakers last season.
The move worked out well.
This became a dream season for Mercyhurst, one of four schools to make it here to the NCAA Division II baseball World Series for the first time. Martinez led the team in batting average with a superb .366 mark, to go along with eleven doubles, three triples, a home run and sixteen RBI.
The Lakers aren’t just here to enjoy the view. After besting Truman State Sunday in 11 innings, they’ll next go up against Tampa on Tuesday.
And Martinez will be right there leading the way, if not in word then certainly in deed.