NEW YORK -- "I think I'm being roasted," Tino Martinez, a month shy of his 50th birthday, said as he tried to slip past the media before the 15th annual Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation Celebrity Gala on Wednesday inside Cipriani across from the Wall Street bull.
There would be plenty of Tino stories to follow in the hours to come, because he was this year's honoree, along with Bank of America, for their leadership in supporting survivors of domestic violence. Former Yankees Don Mattingly, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and David Cone were among the attendees, as were Commissioner Rob Manfred and his wife, Mets legends John Franco and Rusty Staub, legendary jockey Angel Cordero, emcee Bob Costas and various luminaries.
"It's only appropriate that Tino is here and Don Mattingly is here, because that was not an easy set of footsteps to try to fill," Torre said of the past Yankee transition at first base. "Tino Martinez never wanted any notoriety, which I think really set our ballclubs apart. The guys never stopped to admire what they did. They never said, 'Look what I just did.' It was always 'we.'"
Martinez started at first base for Seattle in that classic Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series against the Yankees, after which Mattingly bowed out of Major League Baseball after a fabled Yankee career. New York acquired Martinez that December, and he proceeded to help the Yankees to four World Series championships (1996 and 1998-2000).
"Tino obviously is a perfect guy for the Yankees, I thought coming in," Mattingly recalled. "He was a guy who loved to play, not afraid to field at all. A lot of people probably didn't know him when he got here, but [ he was] a guy that I think a lot of people knew was going to be a really, really good player."
"Tino gets such a lot of credit on the teams that we were able to build and win championships with, because of his leadership, his toughness ... He played every day," Posada said. "He played great baseball at both ends of the game, a great defender and a clutch hitter. At times you needed that big home run, and he was the one who provided that for us."
"Tino was a perfect addition to our team," Torre added. "He felt he was letting you down if he didn't get hits, but he helped you in so many different ways -- not the least of which was his passion for the game."
Martinez and everyone who attended this year's dinner had a passion for Torre's cause. The Safe At Home Foundation was founded in 2002 by Ali and Joe Torre in response to the impact that domestic violence had on Torre and his family. One of the foundation's programs, Margaret's Place, named in honor of Torre's mother, provides a "safe room" in schools staffed by a full-time, master's-level counselor who provides both individual and group sessions.
In addition, school-wide anti-violence campaigns and educational forums for school employees and parents enhance the program's curriculum. There are 14 Margaret's Place programs in four states -- New York, New Jersey, California and Ohio. Educating students who are most profoundly affected by domestic violence, Safe At Home has reached more than 72,000 students through individual and group counseling, school-wide campaigns, peer leadership and educational opportunities.
The foundation helps young people overcome their fears and end the cycle of violence that all too often continues on through generations. Could Torre himself ever have imagined it would have such an impact 15 years later?
"You always hope," he said. "But when you start out -- especially sharing something I never shared as a kid growing up -- I had friends I was very close to and still are close to, but when I started this foundation, they said, 'I didn't know that was going on in your house.'
"It was something I was embarrassed about. I didn't think it was as widespread as it is, and we're finding out recently that it's more widespread not just in all parts of the world, [but] especially in the United States lately."
Manfred, who was honored at last year's event, reiterated the importance of Torre's leadership on this issue as part of his current role as MLB's chief baseball officer.
"He was a great resource for us on the domestic violence front," Manfred said. "All sports needed to come to grips in terms of having a policy to deal with these issues, and we were real fortunate to have on our staff an existing resource who had been on things like Presidential commissions to address the issue."
Mattingly, the current Marlins manager, is waiting to see how his club's new ownership team -- which includes CEO Derek Jeter -- goes about its forthcoming rebuild in Miami. For now, Mattingly said there is not a second thought about helping Torre at an event like this.
"Joe's just a great person," Mattingly said. "He's a guy who treats everybody well and would do anything for you. So when it comes to doing something for Joe, there's no problem stepping forward."