But then Martinez had an idea. He had to get closer to the fans.
“I’m going down there,” he stated, his voice hoarse from a nagging cold, his eyes scanning a massive crowd that swelled off metal barricades and onto an invisible sidewalk.
“I don’t know if that’s a great idea,” said a team security guard, assigned to Martinez for the afternoon, and the manager looked at him and smiled.
“They all came out here to see us,” Martinez responded. “I have to go down there.”
So Martinez charged between the seats, skipped down the steps and stopped at the front of the bus. The security guard trailed him. His family did, too. Martinez waited for the driver to pull the brake and let him out, into the thick of a thousand screaming people, into a moment that most never get to experience. Then the door swung open, and Martinez leaped into the air.
Then came the noise, like the loud rumble of an airplane or maybe just a city that had fallen in love.
‘Sounds like they love you now’
It was just after 1 p.m. when Martinez first walked up the bus’s steps, looked into Saturday’s cloudless sky and then lamented how tired he felt.
Maybe it was the Tiesto concert he and his players attended the night before. Maybe it was the World Series party in Houston that pushed deep into a sleepless morning. Or maybe it was that he hadn’t slept for months, at least not well, because that’s what happens when you manage a long-shot team through a pennant race.
“Davey! Davey!” shouted someone behind him, cutting off his stream of consciousness. It was Jen Giglio, the Nationals’ vice president of communications, and she was holding a large object wrapped in a blue blanket. It looked like a swaddled baby in her arms. And it may as well have been.
“Oh, Jen! Sorry! Let me get that,” Martinez said, taking the World Series trophy out of her hands, placing it in its own seat.
“Lifting that will never get old,” Martinez, 55, told his grown sons, Dalton and Jagger, and they nodded through grins. “Absolutely never.”
The calls for his job came after a 19-31 start to the season. They subsided shortly after, once the Nationals found a rhythm, and were a distant memory once a postseason run picked up steam. Now, on the second day of November, fans lined a fence and chanted his name until he waved. The two syllables, “Da-vey,” soon sounded like a scratched record in an empty house. They didn’t stop. They only got louder once the bus lurched forward and the parade began.
“Hey, skipper,” Rizzo said, and Martinez spun around to face his boss. “Sounds like they love you now, huh?”
“Sure does,” Martinez answered. “And I love them, too.”
And so it was exactly that — love — that drove Martinez into the streets and toward the pulsing crowd. The bus had inched around the corner at 15th and Constitution, into the view of thousands, and red confetti shot into the air while Martinez held the trophy over his head. He could hardly hear himself think. He could only turn to his daughter, Angelica, and slowly mouth: “Oh. My. God.”
Angelica laughed. Martinez did, too, and appeared to wipe a tear off his left cheek. He has cried often in the past six weeks. He has cried often this season, really. He gets choked up whenever his players make him proud, such as after a big comeback victory or even a gutsy performance from a no-name reliever. He cried when the Nationals clinched a postseason spot, with five games to go, and told a full stadium that the team would “stay in the fight.” He did again when they won the National League Division Series, ousting the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers, and he stood in the cramped visitors’ clubhouse while the bottles and beer cans were swept up.
Then he did after the World Series, as if there were any chance he wouldn’t, when his mind first turned to his father, Ernie, and how he wished they could have shared it together. So it was important for Martinez to have his family — two of his boys, Angelica, his girlfriend, Tara — on the ride that carried him deeper into Nationals history. They were all he thought about from the back of an ambulance in mid-September, when he was rushed from the ballpark to a nearby hospital, when his chest tightened up and his heart wasn’t well. He made it through the medical scare with their help. Now he wanted them with him while he dashed into the fray.
“Come on!” Martinez yelled to everyone around him. “Come on, let’s go!”
The manager jogged to the people and fell into their arms as if they were a bed of snow. They tapped him on the shoulder. They grabbed his head. He smiled wide, then smiled some more, before pushing himself off the rails and toward the opposite side. Kids cried while he grabbed their hands. They looked at each other once he passed by, on to make more days, and one young fan shouted, “That was so freaking cool!” Another just shook his head, threw it back and, while laughing, said, “He really is the best.”
Martinez did this for five more blocks, getting off every so often, gathering his last bits of energy before the bus stopped behind the others and was lowered to the ground. Some of his players — Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Asdrúbal Cabrera — charged on to pose with the trophy. Martinez patted them each on the back, gave out hugs, then took his last trip down the steps.
He had made it. Finally, he had made it.
“Well, that was something,” Martinez said while squinting into the sun. “Really, really something.”