Ed Martens stood behind home plate and waited for the ceremonial first pitch that would announce the beginning of the annual U.S. versus Canada softball games at West Side Park in McAllen.
The pitch was delivered high but Martens, who may have been born with a glove on his hand, reached up and snagged the pitch, something he probably could’ve done with his eyes closed.
Martens, from Minnesota, is the father – the creator – of the Senior Softball League and US-Canada All Star game. He has worked endlessly for more than two decades promoting a sport he remains passionate about.
During pre-game ceremonies before the games kicked off, Martens was recognized for the work he has done by the city of McAllen and received a plaque honoring that commitment.
“It’s amazing to see what Ed has done over the years, he has so much knowledge of softball and baseball both,” said Denny Meline, deputy director of programs for the City of McAllen. “To see the support he gets, and the number of players that come out, it just confirms that there is a need for this.”
At 87 years old, Martens eyes glimmer like that of a young boy on Christmas morning when he talks about a sport he has played all his life, first playing baseball and then transitioning to softball. His favorite players may have been outfielders such as Stan Musial for the St. Louis Cardinals or Mickey Mantle for the New York Yankees, but on the field he was more like the Cards’ Ozzie Smith or the Yanks’ Derek Jeter, playing shortstop with quickness, agility and a strong throwing arm.
Now, however, Martens has retired from running the softball show. He has spent twenty-eight years with the league and 21 with the U.S.-Canada game. But retiring may not be the precise word…slowing down, cutting back… those may be more appropriate.
“The purpose of the league is to have fun and bring in new players,” he said. “Every year we lose a few players but this year we got a lot of new ones, especially the ladies, so the door is open for them to come out and play ball. We have two divisions so they can play in the highly competitive A division or come to the B Division. They can have fun in either one.”
Martens is always promoting the league; that is something that will never change. The sport is a part of him and has always been. His love for it is so great that while he was serving in the military, some of his brothers snuck him out of a military hospital – against his superior’s orders not to play that game – so he could play.
That game, in Manila, was broadcast on military radio and it just so happened that his superior was tuning in.
“Yeah,” Martens joked while reminiscing. “I almost got court martialed for that.”
Nobody can question Martens’ passion after hearing that story.
Martens isn’t exactly leaving the sport. He will still work with the B Division with hopes of increasing the number of teams in it from the four it has now. But he also plans on doing more bicycling, something he has grown fond of as well in recent years.
“We just want to have a lot of fun with it,” Martens said. “It’s a fun thing to do.”