DENVER — Starling Marte crosses first base and points to the sky. Marte, her emotions churning, wandered the rest of the base until she finally arrived home, pounding her chest and looking up at the sky again. This home run was special for Marte. This had a different meaning.
Less than a week later, Marte unexpectedly lost her grandmother Brigida. He left his team and flew to the Dominican Republic with his family. When Marte returned, he spoke emotionally about how much the woman who raised him meant to her own life.
Hitting a home run in her honor seemed like an appropriate tribute to giving the Mets the first two runs in a game against the Rockies at Coors Field on Saturday.
“We all just looked at each other and went, ‘Really?'” said manager Buck Showalter. “You can’t make that stuff.”
After Marte’s mother died when she was nine, his grandmother “Ponga” raised Marte and her two sisters by the name their family called them. Ponga had 50 grandchildren and more than 40 great-grandchildren, including Marte and his children. The two remained close until Marte reached the majors as an adult and spent more than 10 years in the big leagues.
“You always supported me,” Marte said through an interpreter. “She always said a prayer to me right before a match and that’s the most memorable thing in a situation like that today.”
When Marte returned to the team after playing four games on the bereavement roster, his teammates described him as emotional but steady. Understanding that one of the best ways to cope is to return to baseball with his teammates, Marte called his return a happy “distraction.” His grandmother’s death came almost two years after his wife, Noelia, also passed away.
“He’s going through a tough time,” said Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings in Game 1 of the doubleheader. “But he played very well today. I’m really happy. I’m so glad he hit that homer in the first inning. … That moment was really special for him.”
The home run came from the first pitch Marte saw after returning to the team. The 94 mph Germán Márquez fastball looked like it would hit the seat. Overall, Marte had two at-fives in the game and had several notable performances in right field as well.
He has made a solid contribution since joining the Mets last offseason on a four-year, $78 million contract, providing a strong outfield defense along with his speed and power. Marte was also an important member of the Mets’ veteran leadership group, a quiet but respected presence in the clubhouse.
On Saturday, Marte turned to the veterans, third base coach Joey Cora (a trusted friend) and others around the team. It was not easy to return to Korea after losing such a precious family member. But Marte offered the most appropriate tribute.
“It was emotional.” Showalter said. “I’m glad I have glasses. I’m not kidding. Regardless of the season and game, if you don’t consider wins and losses, draws, etc., you have to check your pulse.”