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Playing for Grandpa: Tattoos on Martinez's left arm honor the man who inspired the Marquette pitcher

WESTVILLE -- The tattoos on Armando Martinez's left arm pay homage to the man who started him along his baseball path as a child and still inspires him nearly a year-and-a-half after he died unexpectedly from the COVID-19 virus.

"It had a very big impact on me," the Marquette senior of his grandfather, after whom he was named. "He's always been there to help me and he was never able to see my first high school game."

On Martinez's forearm is inscribed his grandfather's favorite Biblical verse, Philippians 4:13, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' On the front of his bicep, the date of his grandfather's death, Nov. 22, 2020, are printed in Roman numerals. Then, on his upper arm and shoulder are religious images including a dove.

"When I'm on the mound, I just do it for him," Armando said. "I feel like he watches me all the time. I know he fixes me for my wrongs."

The elder Martinez played for East Chicago Washington and, like his grandson, was a left-handed first baseman and pitcher. As close as Armando can gather, he got by on smarts and guts more than great stuff, much as he does.

"I think he always threw strikes and got batters out," Armando said. "I just love pitching. I think of it as you either walk a guy and lose or you strike a guy out and you win."

Martinez lives in Valparaiso and attended Thomas Jefferson Middle School through eighth grade, then decided to go to Marquette.

"It's a good school," he said. "I heard about (coach) Casey Martin and thought, wow, I really want to go there for the education and for baseball."

Baseball, however, didn't actually come along until last year. COVID cancelled the spring sports season in 2020, when Martinez was a sophomore, and he didn't play as a freshman.

"I really didn't have faith in myself," he said.

Last spring, 'Mando' was a revelation, throwing 62 2/3 innings, over half of Marquette's total, and striking out a school-record 86.

"It was his first year and he was our Most Valuable Pitcher by far," Martin said. "It's been fun to watch him grow over the last few years. You hear him over there. They only (chatter) because he starts it. He's been such a positive influence in the dugout. He just loves baseball. It's been fun to watch him light up when he comes out here."

With a fastball that probably tops out in the 70s, Martinez relies on movement, location and a knuckle curve that he started throwing in eighth grade.

"He's your classic crafty lefty," Martin said. "That's what he's always been. It's fun to watch when he's on. He's got a lot of movement, a lot of tail. You can tell he's just one of those guys who's passionate about pitching. (The curve) is a just little bit slower. It just adds to that change of pace with some movement. He's got a lot of tail. We're always working on little stuff with him, just maintaining composure. We just keep him around the plate and good things happen."

On a warm, blustery afternoon, Westville nicked Martinez for four runs in 4 1/3 innings. Only two were earned as Marquette committed three errors in the second and third and one of those was iffy as a wind-blown popup fell untouched.

"I was trying to do the best I can to win. Coming up to sectionals, you always want to beat a team you lost to before," Martinez said. "It's their senior night. You don't play a team if you don't think you're going to win."

Marquette responded with three runs in the fourth, backed by a 1-2-3 bottom half, then broke the game open with six in the fifth.

"We let them back in the game," Martin said. "I brought them all in and said, listen, here's the turning point, you decide if you want to win this game or not. I was really impressed by their response to that. That was the challenge of the day. I've got to give them credit for that. There were a lot of keys hits at key opportunities. It just helps with morale, shifts the momentum enough to keep us going."

Martinez struck out four and walked none before leaving in the fifth with a 13-4.

"We have a bunch of games this week and they want me to throw against Kouts as well," he said. "I always throw two fastballs to get them used to it, then I mix it in with some off-speed to get them off track and hopefully that works. The knuckle curve is my specialty. I grip it with my middle finger. I've been told a lot that I have quite a bit of movement. I'm blessed to have that. Not everybody gets that."

Though he's in just his second year of varsity baseball, Martinez has already signed to pitch for NCAA Division III Manchester.

"I'm excited for him, any guy gets that another opportunity in his career," Martin said. "I think he'll be even more fun to watch there, too, if he continues to develop and can add five, 10 miles per hour on his fastball, which a lot of guys do when they go to college."

In addition to the pitching win, Martinez drove in six runs, two of them coming on a sacrifice bunt in the fifth when Jack Gausselin raced home all the way from second, and two more on a single up the middle in seven-run seventh.

"I don't really consider myself a hitter," Martinez said. "I just enjoy hitting the ball."

JJ Welch was 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBI. Luke Fassoth drove in three runs and scored four runs, also throwing the final 2 2/3, allowing one earned run.

"We play every day this week. We're very conscious of that," Martin said. "It's the first great week of weather we've had, so we're just excited to be out playing baseball. I said, schedule 'em all, we'll figure out the pitching. Somebody will stand up there and throw it."

Scott Stacy had three hits and two RBI for Westville (8-8), which issued 12 walks among three pitchers and committed seven errors.

"We're on the wrong end of a losing streak right now," Blackhawks coach Brody Kutch said. "I'm proud of the guys that got put in. It was a great opportunity for Lucas Sonaty to get some innings. He threw strikes, challenged hitters. Carter Glass had like a five-pitch at-bat and hit the ball well."

Marquette's Armando Martinez shows two of the tattoos on his left arm that honor his late grandfather after whom he was named and inspired him as a baseball player.

Armando Martinez of Marquette had his late grandfather's favorite Biblical verse tattooed on his left arm.

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