On Saturday, April 30, 2016, Nielson Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram of East Hanover, NJ held a free public signing and meet and greet with a New York Yankees fan favorite: Tino Martinez. According to general store manager Rick Vrablik, 30 people were already waiting on line at 9am, when the dealership opened. Clutching a 1998 World Series authentic cap and a white sharpie paint pen, I, myself, waited four hours in the line for my chance to meet him.
I was fortunate to be able to catch up with Martinez at the event, too. Below is my one-take interview with him. Martinez and I discussed: his thoughts about the upcoming ’96 team’s commemorative game, his experiences as a player in Old Timer’s Day, challenges he faced in replacing Don Mattingly at first base (after the Hitman’s 13 year tenure), advice to players in the same situation (specifically Didi Gregorius replacing Derek Jeter), his opinion, as a Cuban-American, of the MLB’s expansion to Cuba, what the fans’ appreciation means to him, and his favorite piece of championship hardware!
Frank from Bayonne, clutching an autograph and donning a ’90s Yankees batting practice jersey told me: “[the 90’s] teams were just so special. I wouldn’t wait in line for anyone else but Tino Martinez. I actually came a little later hoping that the line would subside, but it just kept getting longer and longer …. when I got to the end of the line, they told me I may not make it, but I’d just be happy to say I waited on line for him even if I didn’t get a chance to meet him.”
With the line steadily wrapped around three sides of the building for most of the day, the former Yankees first baseman and steady contributor in the dynasty years was scheduled to appear from 3pm-6pm. In total, Vrablik estimated that 500-550 people came out to meet Martinez. Actually, with the final visitors making their way through the snake line inside the dealership, Martinez wrapped up the signing around 6:20pm, ensuring each person that came to see him received an autograph.