Emerging Marte has had to overcome adversity
23-year-old on grand stage after early demotion, losing mother
PHOENIX -- Ketel Marte loves him some Ketel Marte.
He adores him. He cheers for him. He prays for him. In that way, Ketel Sr.'s reverence for his son, Ketel Jr., is like many fathers with their sons.
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Together, they've celebrated a strong season for the D-backs. But they've also endured a life-altering year off the field. Tonight, they'll be reunited again, this time with Ketel Sr. in the stands while his namesake plays shortstop for the National League Wild Card Game against the Rockies at Chase Field.
Baseball is life for the Martes. And sometimes, life is very hard.
"I see that each day my son is growing as a man," Ketel Sr. said in Spanish. "We all support him and are there for him. Baseball has been a good tool for him to stay focused on what's in front of him. It's what we all want."
Marte, who will turn 24 on Oct. 12, was acquired by the D-backs from the Mariners as part of the Taijuan Walker trade on Nov. 23 that sent Jean Segura to Seattle. He began the year with Triple-A Reno, was called up June 28 and is now a crucial piece of Arizona's playoff run.
"One of the offseason goals for us was to get a little more left-handed. Younger, athletic, give us more options up the middle," D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said. "That really focused on one of our offseason goals, which was run prevention, and he helped fit that bill quite a bit for us. So it was a natural fit as we moved beyond Taijuan in that deal to help us long term as well."
Marte burst on the scene with a strong season at Triple-A Tacoma in the Mariners' system in 2015, then he hit .283/.351/.402 in 247 plate appearances after a promotion to the Majors. He finished the 2016 regular season with a .259 average, one homer, 33 RBIs, 55 runs scored and 11 stolen bases in 119 games, experiencing the usual ups and downs that come with being a young player. He also spent time on the disabled list because of a sprained left thumb and mononucleosis.
"We knew he had a proven track record of being able to go out with tremendous talent and play the game at a high level," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "When we obtained him, we were really excited about the potential. We sent him back to player development to shore up a few parts of his game, which he did. And he deserves so much credit for playing a year and a half at the big league level and then finding himself in the Minor Leagues and not letting that affect him. That's hard to do."
Lovullo described Ketel's emergence as an everyday shortstop after injuries to middle infielders Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed as a "saving moment for our season." Marte, who finished the season with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 73 games, has been slowed by hamstring soreness, but he tested the leg Tuesday and is expected to be ready for tonight's game.
"I worked out and I feel great," Ketel Jr. said in Spanish. "We are in the playoffs, and it's a great time. I feel so much better than I did."
Life changed for the Martes in late July when Ketel Jr.'s mother, Elpidia Valdez, was killed when a vehicle hit the moped she was driving in the Dominican Republic. The accident happened not long after the mother and son spoke on the phone before the team's flight from St. Louis to Chicago.
The grief-stricken son flew back to the island with members of the club's front office on owner Ken Kendrick's private plane shortly after hearing the news. It was the longest flight of his life.
"I'm the type of person who has a lot of belief in God, a lot of faith in God, and that's helped me through difficult times," said Ketel Jr. "My mother always wanted the best from me and for me, and I feel like she is with me all of time. I feel her helping me always. At the same time, I know she's gone, and that's very hard to deal with. But again, I've always been one to trust in God, and I know I will be OK."
Ketel Jr. still regularly honors his mother with posts on social media, and he tattooed her image on his left arm. He does a good job keeping his guard up in public, but Ketel Sr. said he knows his boy is still hurting inside.
"I'm very proud of him and how he has handled everything," the father said. "He's been good. He's been calm. I know he's going to go out and have a good game for his mother."