NEW YORK -- The New York City Marathon may have been cancelled, but somebody forgot to tell the runners. Thousands of ambitious joggers showed up at Central Park to run an informal marathon Sunday morning, and dozens of them were there to run thanks to Edgar and Holli Martinez.
Martinez, perhaps the greatest designated hitter of all time, was on hand at Columbus Circle bright and early on Sunday to cheer on his wife, Holli, who had planned on running her first marathon in support of the hurricane relief effort and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
The informal event -- a triumph in philanthropy and in social media -- came about organically. Martinez and his wife were in town for the original marathon, and after seeing news clips of the devastation in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, they decided to gather as many like-minded people as they could.
"It's understandable, the reason why it was cancelled," said Martinez, awake and ready to cheer on his wife at 7 a.m. ET. "But it's an opportunity to gather people and create some fun."
Martinez said the marathon was a bit out of his range, but Holli was ready to go and flanked by dozens of people who had answered her call on social media. They had come here, together, to conquer their own physical limitations and to help repair the damage done by Mother Nature.
Holli had decided to run in support of New York Cares, a relief organization that has tended to crises big and small for more than two decades. Prospective donors can donate directly to New York Cares and follow the action through The Martinez Foundation on Twitter (twitter.com/MartinezFellows).
"This is my first marathon, and I chose the New York Marathon because we love New York," said Holli of why she had flown from Seattle for this moment. "We found ourselves in a city under stress, and there's a lot of need right now. We were thrilled to take the opportunity to gather fellow runners who were ready to run and try to raise money to help the people in New York."
Their ace in the hole, on this day, was Lesley Mettler, a running coach from Seattle. Mettler, who recently broke her collarbone at Ironman Wisconsin, had been on the plane with Holli, and when she heard that people were going to go through with the run, she helped make it happen.
Mettler helped the runners design a course: Four loops of the park, which would get them to 24.4 miles, and then another turn to get them to the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. The original New York City Marathon had been run in the park, said Mettler, and this was a fitting way to pay tribute.
"Everyone trained really hard," said Mettler, who planned to run at least part of the course. "We thought it was a great opportunity to raise money for a good cause and also to let people experience what they came here to do. It's in me to want to help them complete that run and accomplish their goals, and if we can also raise money for the hurricane victims along the way, that's all the better."
Holli had originally been inspired to run the marathon by the loss of Martinez's cousin, Annabelle, who passed away from multiple myeloma last spring. And when she posted her desire to run the marathon anyway for a good cause, she was joined by an entourage of like-minded people.
Alicia O'Neill, manager of endurance events for the MMRF, began funneling interested runners to the Martinez banner, where together they could raise money for the relief effort through New York Cares. More than 100 runners were pledged to the MMRF, but not all of them could make it Sunday.
"People who are connected to a patient and who are runners want to support us, and we've already raised a half a million dollars even though there's no marathon," said O'Neill. "Half of our group went down to Staten Island today to volunteer because they felt their heart pulling them to do that.
"Others in our group here felt like, 'You know what? I've been raising money. I've been training. I'm running a marathon today.' When Holli put out the notice to run, it gave a lot of people a really easy way to fulfill their dream even though there's no official finish line or a medal."
And by fulfilling that dream, they were also helping to support a good cause. Jennifer Goldschein of New York Cares helped organize Sunday's run and was thrilled to be a part of it. New York Cares had received monetary support from the run, but it had also received some much-needed exposure.
"We've felt very fortunate," she said. "Holli reached out to New York Cares and said, 'We keep on using the phrase, "Making lemonade out of lemons."' They said that they really wanted to support a grassroots, on-the-ground organization, and they chose New York Cares to promote everyone to support. We're incredibly grateful to be the charity partner and excited to feel the energy here."
Martinez -- who thrived so much as a designated hitter during his career that the league named an award after him -- said he's not really involved in the game anymore. Martinez, a seven-time All-Star, received a vote on 36.5 of the ballots in last year's election for the Hall of Fame.
"I'm involved with some businesses since I've retired, and we have a foundation in support of education," he said. "But in baseball, I go to Spring Training and help out, but that's all I'm doing. As for the Hall of Fame, I don't think about it at all until January, when people start talking about it."
Martinez wasn't running Sunday, and he was prepared to wait as long as it took for the runners to finish their trek around the park. For one day, Martinez could revel in the athletic exploits of someone else -- his wife, Holli, who had refused to let a cancelled race interfere with her philanthropy.
"It's more meaningful," said Holli of the makeshift run. "It's one thing to come together for the love of running. It's another thing to come together because you really want to help people and be part of the recovery effort. It's my understanding that the organizations that are helping, it's harder for them to accept physical help, but they really do need resources as far as money is concerned."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com.