SEATTLE -- Mariners Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis wears size 13 cleats. Tycean Martin laces up a size 7 1/2 pair to compete in his youth baseball program in Seattle. But despite the obvious difference, the two have something very much in common.
Both are eager to learn what it means to walk in the other’s shoes.
Lewis understands adversity. He spent nearly three seasons working back from a serious knee injury suffered just 40 games into his pro baseball career and now is one of the up-and-coming stars in Major League Baseball at age 25.
But Lewis recognizes the tougher road being taken by Martin, a 13-year-old who has already undergone four open-heart surgeries and 22 medical procedures after being born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital defect in which the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped.
Martin, an eighth grader at Glacier Middle School in SeaTac, Wash., is one of the first nine kids from the Seattle area chosen to be part of the Mariners’ Hometown Nine program that will help fund and mentor minority youths in their baseball and softball pursuits.
He learned of his selection in a video call from Lewis that he’s since watched numerous times, relishing the message delivered by the Mariners' center fielder.
“He shared his story and how he’s had to fight through adversity and just his stuff about his life,” Martin said. “It was inspirational to hear because I know he’s gone through a lot. And I have, too. It was good to hear how he’s gone through a lot and how he’s fought for it.”
The Hometown Nine program was inspired by the 11 Black players on Seattle’s 40-man roster last season as they talked of ways to help promote their game in minority communities. Part of the plan involves the Mariners paying for equipment, training and travel from eighth grade through high school for the nine youngsters who’ll be selected each year.
The other part will be for Mariners players and staff to help mentor the youngsters and provide encouragement both in their athletic and academic pursuits. For Lewis, that bond is already being formed with Martin.
“His story is different than mine, but it’s cool to be inspirational to anybody that I can,” Lewis said. “He’s had a lot to deal with. To show that resilience, I look up to him the same way he looks up to me.”
When Lewis learned that Martin likes to custom design shoes and has founded a fledgling business called T Money Kicks, he sent the youngster a pair of his size 13 shoes as well as some 7 1/2s for Martin to wear.
Martin is going to customize Lewis’ cleats with the Hometown Nine logo and send them back, with Lewis vowing to wear them during Spring Training.
As for Martin’s own baseball adventures, he plays first base, center field and pitches for the Washington Warriors select team. His father, Bobby Martin, said his son’s heart condition leaves Tycean with a lower blood oxygen level than others, comparing it to running at high altitude after just getting off an airplane.
“He has to work a little bit harder to get the oxygen he needs for the rest of his body, so he feels it when he sprints,” Bobby Martin said. “He’s got some synthetic parts [in his rebuilt heart]. It doesn’t replace all the functions of a full-functioning heart, but it gets it so he is able to do what he does right now. At this point, baseball and golf are the two sports that his cardiologist allows him to play.”
It’s been several years since his last open-heart surgery, and other than six-month checkups to make sure everything remains OK, Tycean doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about his unique condition.
“I try to just be like the other players and just try to be the best that I can,” he said. “I act like I don’t have anything going on.”
And as Thanksgiving approaches, the youngster wants people to know he appreciates them and the opportunities he’s been given in a life that started out a little rough.
“I’m thankful for my family and the support I have in my life,” he said. “I’m thankful for family and friends. And I’m thankful for getting accepted into Hometown Nine and the opportunity that I got. I want to keep working on my baseball skills and life skills and keep doing good in school, because I know they’re going to support me.”