February 2, 2023

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Marte honors late grandmother with homer

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DENVER — Starling Marte pointed to the sky as he crossed first base. His emotions roiling, Marte made his way around the rest of the bases, eventually reaching home, pounding his chest and once again looking skyward as he did. This home run was special to Marte. This one meant something different.

Less than a week earlier, Marte had unexpectedly lost his grandmother, Brigida. He left the team and flew to the Dominican Republic to be with his family. When Marte returned, he was emotional, speaking about how much the woman who raised him meant to his life.

To homer in her honor, giving the Mets their first two runs in a 5-1 win over the Rockies on Saturday at Coors Field, seemed a fitting tribute.

“We all just kind of looked at each other and went, ‘Really?’” said manager Buck Showalter. “You can’t make that stuff up.”

After Marte’s own mother died when he was 9 years old, his grandmother — “Ponga,” as she was called by her family members — raised him and his two sisters. Ponga had 50 grandchildren and more than 40 great-grandchildren, including Marte and his kids. The two remained close as Marte grew into an adult, broke into the Majors and carved out a decade-plus big league career.

“She would always support me,” Marte said through an interpreter. “She would always give me this prayer to say right before a game, and that’s what I remembered most today in a situation like that.”

When Marte returned to the team following a four-game stint on the bereavement list, his teammates described him as emotional but steady. Understanding that one of the best ways to cope was to be around his teammates and return to his job in baseball, Marte called his return a happy “distraction.” His grandmother’s death came nearly two years to the day after his wife, Noelia, also passed away.

“He’s having a hard time,” said Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who allowed one run over 5 1/3 innings to earn the win in Game 1 of a doubleheader. “But he played so nice today. I’m so happy. I’m really happy for him that he got that homer in the first inning. … That moment was really special for him.”

The home run came on the first pitch that Marte saw since returning to the team — a 94 mph Germán Márquez fastball that seemed destined to reach the seats. Overall, Marte finished 2-for-5 in the game, while also making multiple notable plays in right field.

He has been a solid contributor since joining the Mets on a four-year, $78 million contract this past offseason, providing strong outfield defense to go along with his speed and power. Marte has also been an important member of the Mets’ veteran leadership group, as a quiet but respected presence in the clubhouse.

Saturday, Marte leaned on those veterans, as well as third-base coach Joey Cora — a trusted confidant — and others around the team. Returning after losing such an important member of his family was not easy. But Marte managed to offer the most fitting tribute.

“It was emotional,” Showalter said. “I’m glad I had glasses on. I’m not kidding you. Regardless of the season and the games — win, lose or draw — if you don’t take that in, you need to check your pulse.”

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