Carlos Martinez didn’t have much growing up in a rural area near Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
His mother died when he was young, and he was adopted and raised by an uncle, who had to borrow money to buy him his first baseball glove.
So when the St. Louis Cardinals’ staff ace sees the kids of Fairmont City — a metro-east town with a population that’s nearly 75 percent Hispanic — he can’t help but see himself.
Martinez and his Tsunami Waves Foundation were at Indian Mounds Golf Club on Thursday as sponsors of a golf tournament to benefit the Fairmont City Police Athletic League and other youth programs throughout the St. Louis region.
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“There was not a foundation, not a person that could help me with things,” Martinez said through interpreter Marisa Diaz. “That’s why it’s so important to me and means so much for me to be able to come here and pay it forward to the community.
“I do it with all my heart.”
The Tsunami Waves Foundation — so named for the nickname Martinez has tattooed on his pitching arm — was inspired, in part, by the memory of former teammate Oscar Taveras. The Cardinals’ outfield prospect was killed along with his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, in a high-speed car wreck in Puerto Plata on Oct. 26, 2014.
Basically, our goal has been to fill schools, basketball courts and playgrounds and not jails. It started out more as a sports-related thing, but as we grew, we recognized the needs in the Hispanic community and tried to do more.
Noe Marquez, Fairmont City Police Athletic League
The foundation’s impact, at first, was limited to a few speaking engagements and playing host to youth at Busch Stadium. Then in the winter of 2015, Martinez and Tsunami Waves distributed about 500 baseball gloves to children in his hometown.
Martinez says he hopes to see foundation money go toward serving basic life needs in poorer communities.
“I see a lot of communities that are poor with families that don’t have anything. It’s not just here, but on the other side in St. Louis,” Martinez said, as translated by Diaz, development director for Tsunami Waves. “Some just don’t have the means to live. Whether it be clothes, sports, school, educational tools ... that’s what I’d like to see the funds go to.”
Fairmont City Police Athletic League has followed a similar evolution, beginning with team sponsorships and uniforms and growing to include educational and mentor programs.
But through the efforts of law enforcement officers and other volunteers, it has been able to provide everything from window-unit air conditioners and fans for families during hot summer spells to food and clothing to others with special needs.
“Basically, our goal has been to fill schools, basketball courts and playgrounds and not jails,” said Marquez, a 1997 graduate of Althoff. “It started out more as a sports-related thing, but as we grew, we recognized the needs in the Hispanic community and tried to do more.”
Tsunami Waves Foundation made an immediate connection with Fairmont City and its PAL because of all Martinez has in common with its Latino population.
He speaks their language — in more ways than one.
There was not a foundation, not a person that could help me with things. That’s why it’s so important to me and means so much for me to be able to come here and pay it forward to the community.
Carlos Martinez, through a translator
“His English wasn’t as good as it is now, so he thought it was a good community to start with because he could actually speak to the kids directly,” said Lt. Noe Marquez, chairman of the Fairmont City Police Athletic League. “Carlos come out and he tells the kids they have to give their 100 percent no matter what cards they’ve been dealt in life, that they always have a chance.
“He’s made a connection here.”
The Fairmont City Police Athletic League first teamed with Tsunami Waves on a baseball clinic for about 75 Madison County kids in 2015. Last year, with help from O’Fallon golf pro Dan Polites, the youth received a month’s worth of free golf instruction which culminated in a tournament at Indian Mounds.
Thursday’s four-player adult scramble was a fundraiser for both the foundation and the Fairmont City Police Athletic League.
“I want the fans to see that this community is here and that I feel a bond to the Hispanic community,” Martinez said through Diaz. “We always want to pay it forward.”