On Sunday mornings before games at Yankee Stadium, a brief Mass is celebrated for players. Back in 1996, when Constantino “Tino” Martinez began playing with the team, he said to the priest celebrating the mass, “I’m struggling, Father, can you put in a call to God for me?”
“Tino,” responded Edward J. McMahon, S.J., “every time I call God and mention your name, he hangs up on me.”
Martinez, a two-time All-Star first baseman and key contributor to four New York Yankees’ World Series wins, was the keynote speaker and a recipient of an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Fordham University’s 169th Commencement, held May 17 at the Rose Hill Campus.
The day before the ceremony, Martinez visited Father McMahon at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit retirement home on Fordham’s campus. He and the priest, who Martinez said reminds him of “Mickey, Rocky Balboa’s trainer,” shared laughs and memories of a tough time for Martinez.
“At this point in my career I could’ve folded, but I didn’t want that,” he said. “I was determined to make it with this team, in this city, and with these fans.”
Martinez spoke of baseball as “my business” and his life experience as his “resume.”
“Your life in many ways is the creation of one big resume,” he said.
He noted that his journey was a humbling one that included a “big break” with a “real big company” that was “ranked one of the lowest, least profitable in our business.” Through the efforts of “a couple of young guys like myself” that business, the Seattle Mariners, would break into the top five of the league in as many years. After the business “shut down for a few months,” Martinez said, referring to the 1994–1995 Major League Baseball strike, he was transferred to another city, where he was greeted with a bevy of “Bronx cheers.”
In threading together the language of business with his career in baseball, Martinez set out to universalize his singular experience. He told graduates that no matter life’s disappointments, more doors will open to them and that they should persevere.
“If your dream job is in New York, Boston, or L.A., you may have to go through Williamsport, Calgary, or some other small town to get there. It’s not always going to be a direct path, it’s not always going to be easy or go as planned, but stick to your plan and … love what you do,” he said.
Martinez ended his speech by congratulating his daughter, Olivia Martinez, FCRH ’14. “I promised I wouldn’t say her name, but as the proud father of a 2014 Fordham graduate, I want my daughter to know how proud I am of her and how much I love her,” he said.
In conclusion, he told the Class of 2014, “Good luck and swing for the fences.”
Fordham conferred honorary degrees on seven others, including Stephen E. Bepler, FCRH ’64, a longtime supporter of the University who recently retired as senior vice president with Capital Research Global Investors, where he had worked since 1972; Sister Mary Alice Hannan, O.P., former executive director of Part of the Solution, a social service agency in the Bronx; Reynold Levy, former president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who received a rousing ovation on entering Edwards Parade.
Sotomayor grew up in the housing projects of the Bronx, the daughter of a nurse and a factory worker, and forged a path to the highest court in the United States.
On presenting her with an honorary doctorate in laws, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, told her that as a “daughter of the Bronx we will also present you with an autographed baseball from Tino Martinez.” Martinez, in turn, received a signed copy of Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World (Vintage, 2013).
In thanking Martinez for his speech, Father McShane said that his only quibble was that Martinez did not mention the sacred name: “Yankees.” He then thanked the graduates’ parents “for sharing their sons and daughters with Fordham.” Finally, he thanked the facilities staff that worked through the night to ready the grounds after torrential rains.
On bidding farewell to the Class of 2014, Father McShane quoted poet Seamus Heaney, describing the day as a “time of ‘floodtide in the heart.’” He told the graduates to develop and deepen their capacity for “reflection, gratitude, and generosity.”
And then he delivered instructions familiar to the Fordham community: “Respond to the gifts and graces in your lives with bold and daring love. Be conspicuous in compassion. Be bothered by injustice. Embrace the suffering. Champion the poor. If you do, you will be men and women of Fordham. You will be men and women for others who can and will transform the world with love.”
Three honoree degree recipients were not at Rose Hill, but will speak at various school diploma ceremonies: Nemir Kirdar, GBA ’72, the founder, executive chairman and CEO of the global investment group Investcorp, who will speak at the Graduate School of Business Administration ceremony on May 19; Denny Chin, LAW ’78, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, whowill speak at the Law School diploma ceremony on May 19; and Yvonne Cagle, M.D., a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and NASA senior astronaut physician and researcher, who will speak at the Graduate School of Social Services ceremony on May 22.