The day before he was left homeless by disaster for the second time in 20 months, Jon Martinez rapped six hits in two games to lead the Timber Creek baseball team to the championship of the Pop McKenna tournament.
Timber Creek coach Jon Kates calls Martinez, a junior second baseman, the team’s most improved player and said his performance April 27 at West Deptford marked the high point of his career.
“It was the best day he’s ever had for us, without a doubt,” Kates said.
But on that weekend, Saturday’s triumph gave way to Sunday’s tragedy in a twist that still has Kates and others close to the program shaking their heads in dismay.
“If it was a script, nobody would believe it,” Kates said.
Martinez and his family “lost everything” when fire tore through their home in the Brittany Woods section of Gloucester Township on the night of April 28, according to his father, Ernesto.
The disaster scattered the family. Jon Martinez and his stepsisters, both of whom are athletes at Timber Creek, are living with a family associated with the baseball program, while Ernesto Martinez and his wife, Jennifer Brady, are residing with Ernesto’s sister in Camden.
The event mobilized the Timber Creek school community as well as the South Jersey baseball community, which has rallied around the family with fund-raising efforts.
“It’s overwhelming,” Ernesto Martinez said during Timber Creek’s game against Lenape last week. “There are not enough thanks that I can give. I’m out of words.”
While the entire family — which includes Timber Creek junior Emily Ramos, a track athlete, and sophomore Leah Ramos, a member of the lacrosse team — has been devastated, Ernesto Martinez said he is especially concerned about his son.
That’s because Jon Martinez is experiencing a repeat nightmare. He was living with his mother, Sugeill Martinez, in Fort Myers, Fla., in September 2017 when Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 4 storm.
Jon Martinez said he and his mother were sheltering at his aunt’s home during the storm. It was more than a week before they were able to return to their house and discover that the roof had collapsed.
“My mom is still dealing with that,” Jon Martinez said.
In the wake of the disaster in Florida, Ernesto Martinez said he suggested to Jon’s mother that Jon move back to New Jersey and live with him and his wife, attending Timber Creek and playing baseball for the Chargers.
“If it’s not baseball, he doesn’t even want to talk about it,” Ernesto Martinez said. “He had to find a place to play.”
On the night of the fire, Jon Martinez said he was in his room, doing homework, when he saw smoke coming through the vents.
“I smelled something very distinct and I yelled, ‘What’s burning?’ ” Jon Martinez said. “I looked at my dad’s end of the hallway, and I couldn’t even see his door. It was just filled with soot and smoke.”
Jon Martinez was overcome with emotion and treated in an ambulance outside the home during the fire, according to his father.
“It hit him so hard because he’s been through it once and now to go through it again. It was too much for him,” Ernesto Martinez said. “He misses his mom. Any kid would.”
Jon Martinez texted some of his baseball friends soon after escaping the fire. Many of them rushed to the scene, including senior third baseman Will Bartley, who lives down the street.
“Honestly, I would rather it had happened to me because he’s been through so much already,” Bartley said. “To have it happen twice, it’s hard to believe. It’s horrible.”
Bartley said the baseball field has been a haven for Martinez, who leads the Chargers in hits and stolen bases.
“Once he touches the field, his problems at home are gone,” Bartley said.
All the Chargers, including Martinez, have written “64 Yorkshire Rd. 08081” — the address of the Martinez home — on the front of their baseball caps as a show of solidarity.
Kates said the support from the South Jersey baseball community has been “mind-boggling.”
Several teams have raised money for the family. After Timber Creek’s May 1 game against Bishop Eustace, Crusaders coach Sam Tropiano presented Martinez with an envelope with money and the entire team surrounded Martinez, offering handshakes and hugs.
“It was hair-raising,” Kates said of the emotional scene.
Jon Martinez is quiet and reserved. He said he feels “a little unlucky” but tries not to dwell on his misfortune.
He said the support from his teammates, the school community and the South Jersey baseball community has been a source of comfort and an inspiration.
“It’s hard to push through, but the way I look at it is there’s always going to be obstacles,” Martinez said. “The way people have been, it’s helped me push through. I know something bad happened and I’m like, ‘I’m going to look for the good.’