If you had walked into the old gymnasium at St. Cecilia's School in south St. Louis on Thursday, May 5, you would have been greeted with the mouth-watering smell of chicken topped with a piquant mole and the welcoming sound of a woman calling for more tequila. You would have seen a room buzzing with excitement, not just from the festivities for St. Cecilia's Cinco de Mayo fiesta, but also from the surprise guest that sat at the table in front of the stage diligently signing his name on baseball cards.
Just hours after his team shutout the Phillies downtown, Carlos Martinez, along with his wife Paloma and two children, Kenny and Kevin, made the trip just south of the stadium to St. Cecilia's to help spread the word about the St. Louis Mosaic Project and his own foundation, Tsunami Waves. Auctioning the shirt off his back and his game used cleats from Friday's game against the Pirates, and an additional signed shirt he brought with him, Carlos was able to raise $1075 for the school.
For Carlos, it is all about "paying it forward".
In 2015 Martinez founded Tsunami Waves with the goal of doing just that by helping children in need, hoping to eventually sponsor a family. Since he was little, Carlos knew he wanted to help others receive opportunities he did not. Inspired by the "player-ticket program" where he was a host to a group of kids in the dugout, Tsunami Waves was born. Since then, he has been doing everything he can to get his message out, from glove drives to vitilla tournaments to visiting schools like St. Cecilia's.
His message: Dream big.
Spreading his message is his favorite part of visiting the schools and taking part in events. And he can see the words sinking in.
"The kids are very attentive," he told me through the translation of Marisa Diaz, the Special Events and Development Director with Tsunami Waves.
May 5 was no exception, especially when Carlos obliged the crowd demanding he join in the salsa dance lessons. He approached it like he seems to approach most things: with the smile and upbeat attitude that makes him such a likable baseball player. After requesting the music be turned up louder, he danced, and, unsurprisingly, he was good.
If you had visited St. Cecilia's on May 5, you might have ended your evening enjoying some delicious tres leche cake as Carlos Martinez chatted with fans, some imitating him throwing cups of water in his teammates faces, some wishing him luck, and most requesting photos. As the crowd died down, Carlos took his leave, to the dismay of his youngest son, who had to be corralled by his father after the old, "we are leaving you" fake-out did not work. And though Martinez's work for the evening was complete, his mission is far from over.
On Thursday, June 16 Carlos will further spread his message by hosting a charity bowling fundraiser with the proceeds going to underprivileged children in St. Louis and the Dominican Republic. Carlos will be bowling in the event. When I asked if he was a good bowler, he smiled and nodded.
To donate to Tsunami Waves, visit www.tsunamiwavesfoundation.com/donate. Tsunami Waves t-shirts are sent with donations of $25 or more (and they are very nice shirts!).
Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch also wrote on Carlos and his mission with Tsunami Waves. You can check out his article here.
A special thanks to Carlos and his agent for taking the time to speak with me and Marisa for coordinating the interview and translating!