By Rachel Jones | Photographs from Dave Arrigo/the Pittsburgh Pirates
Let’s go back to July 26, 2012.
An ambitious, 23-year-old Starling Marte, who worked his way up from the minor leagues, put on his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform for the first time. Before his first time at bat in his first major league game, he adjusts his gloves and looks out across Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. After a few practice swings, Marte makes his way to the plate. As he drags and stomps his cleats in the dirt, the TV commentators weigh in on the soon-to-be historic moment. “I’m sure he’s nervous, but he’s not going to fear the big leagues — the type of guy he is. He’s worked for this his entire life. He’s a guy that’s not the most disciplined hitter. He’s up there to hack. He’s up there to hit. So, hopefully, the nerves aren’t too overwhelming.” They aren’t.
Houston pitcher Dallas Keuchel launches the ball. It connects with Marte’s bat. And it soars over the center field wall. After striding the bases, Marte takes an extra step on home plate, then calmly walks back to the dugout — a stark contrast to the enthusiastic Pirates dugout, filled with cheers and Zoltan symbols from his teammates. The previously doubtful announcers have changed their tune, and the previously unknown Marte has changed into one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ best and most reliable players.
“I genuinely desire to embrace any opportunity to help motivate my teammates and to lift up those around me to help them become better players on the field.” — Starling Marte
Now let’s get to April 3, 2017.
The Pirates’ season opener versus the Boston Red Sox starts Marte’s fifth season with the team. “I have matured a lot. I have learned to focus better, become a better teammate, and become a better ball player,” Marte says, reflecting on the previous years.
The span of time is filled with fond memories, including recognition as the 2015 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year, the 2015 and 2016 Rawlings National Golden Glove Winner, and a member of the 2016 National All-Star Team. Still, Marte gives the crown to his fateful, first at-bat.
“My favorite memory so far has been hitting a home run the day I got called up,” Marte says. A close second is playing with the team in the playoffs, something he’s done three times and looks to do again this year. “Some of my primary goals for this season are to help my team win the World Series, to compete better than ever, and to continue improving on the field.”
The best advice Marte received for this season? “Don’t try to overdo it. Don’t think you are better than anyone. Just play the game the way you do.”
Q-and-A with Starling Marte
How do you prepare for the start of a new season?
Physically — continuing to work hard, taking care of my body, and remaining healthy. Mentally — I am working on becoming more patient with myself by pausing, breathing, trusting the process, and enjoying the game to the fullest. One of my ultimate desires is to remain mentally and physically healthy so that I will not only enjoy the game, but I’ll also be able to motivate those around me by doing my work well and remaining focused as I battle out there on the field.
Can you talk a little bit about the dynamic in the out field with Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco?
We get along great and constantly encourage each other to get better, while we have fun and play the game well. We have great chemistry and are in constant communication. I genuinely enjoy playing with those guys.
This season, you’ll be taking over in center field. How do you feel about the transition?
To be honest, the only difference is the position; however, I am very aware of how to play center field, since I have played the position many times in my career. There isn’t much adjustment needed — same player and mentality, just in a different position.
Is it more fun for you to play offense or defense?
I enjoy defense a lot more because I can truly be myself. I can interact with the fans, make great plays, and play the game well.
What’s your favorite part about playing at PNC Park?
It feels great to play in such a comfortable and joyous park. You feel the motivation from the fans, and that encourages our game and work ethic. [I hope the fans] continue to bring their energy. Not only does it bring me joy, but it also motivates me while I am out there on the field.
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