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Yankees honour Tino Martinez with Monument Park plaque during pregame ceremony

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Some of the most memorable moments of Tino Martinez's life were packed into one hectic day: Dec. 7, 1995.

It was his 28th birthday. His daughter, Victoria, was born. And he was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees.

Nearly two decades later, Martinez was honoured with a plaque in Monument Park.

The slugger's tenure in pinstripes was celebrated during a 17-minute ceremony on the field before New York's 6-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. The former first baseman credited his teammates and said he never dreamed of such a moment back when he was playing.

"I'm totally overwhelmed," Martinez told the sellout crowd of 47,165 from a podium near home plate. "I'm honoured and humbled by it, but as I said, it's really a result of the success of the team I played on."

Martinez's plaque becomes the 27th placed in the elegant area behind the centre-field fence at Yankee Stadium, where all-time greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are feted with monuments, along with late owner George Steinbrenner.

A clutch hitter with left-handed power, Martinez helped the Yankees win four World Series championships and five AL pennants from 1996-2001. He returned for a seventh season with New York in 2005 and finished his Yankees career with a .276 batting average, 192 homers and 739 RBIs.

"He was a great Yankee," former teammate and current New York manager Joe Girardi said. "Tino brought an edge. He brought a real edge to the game and had high expectations."

Two of Martinez's signature swings were World Series home runs at the previous Yankee Stadium — a go-ahead grand slam during Game 1 in 1998 against San Diego, and a tying shot with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4 of the 2001 classic against Arizona.

"The team rallied around Tino," former Yankees pitcher David Cone said. "Tino was the key power piece in the middle of that lineup that really set up that run."

When he learned the Mariners were planning to trade him after the 1995 season, Martinez told Seattle manager Lou Piniella he would like to go to New York. That meant replacing retiring Yankees captain Don Mattingly at first base, but Martinez took on that unenviable task and soon became a fan favourite himself.

For the deal to be completed, Martinez said, he needed to agree to a contract with the Yankees. Going into the meeting, he said he told his agent: "Whatever they're going to give me, I'll take it."

"He had some really big shoes to fill," said Girardi, who escorted Martinez's mother, Sylvia, to her seat on the field. "Tino had to kind of earn his stripes. He did it fairly quickly."

Martinez's wife, three children and brother also were on hand for the tribute, which included a video montage of his Yankees highlights, part of a weekend when history is taking centre stage in the Bronx.

Hall of Fame reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage also will receive a Monument Park plaque Sunday as part of Old-Timers' Day festivities. There will be a similar ceremony for Martinez's former teammate, Paul O'Neill, on Aug. 9 — and ex-manager Joe Torre will have his No. 6 retired on Aug. 23. Bernie Williams will be recognized next year.

Torre, currently Major League Baseball's executive vice-president for baseball operations, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 27.

Torre was on hand Saturday along with several of his former players who were Martinez's teammates, including O'Neill, Cone, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Derek Jeter, playing his final season, escorted Martinez's wife, Marie, onto the field and presented him with a replica of the plaque Martinez unveiled himself in front of the mound.

Martinez also received a glitzy ring with his No. 24 on it. Moments later, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

"This has been the most incredible ride of my life, playing for the New York Yankees," he said.

Martinez recalled he was at the Masters in April when the Yankees called to tell him they were going to give him a plaque in Monument Park. He said he was shocked and stunned.

"I was speechless," he said. "I still can't believe it."

Now, every time he comes to Yankee Stadium, Martinez said he'll go out to Monument Park to prove to himself his plaque is actually there, alongside all those Yankees greats.

NOTES: LHP CC Sabathia (right knee) threw 36 pitches in a bullpen session and plans to throw batting practice Tuesday at the team's complex in Tampa, Florida. "Everything is going well," Girardi said. "We're encouraged." Sabathia expects to pitch in a minor league game Saturday for Class-A Tampa or in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. "I've been sitting around here, just feeling sorry for myself, just watching the team grind. It's tough," he said. "You want to be out there and help these guys. I feel better that I do have a little light where I can see, hopefully, I can get back out there and help."

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