A sign is attached to the left-field fence with the No. 1 on it at Betty H. Fairfax High School’s baseball field. That was Devin Anselmo’s number.
Last November, he was a passenger who died in a single-car wreck.
Anselmo, who was 17, was the best friend of senior shortstop and pitcher Danny Martinez. This would have been their final season together at the school, located in the Laveen area of southwest Phoenix.
That was devastating news for Martinez and the rest of the Fairfax players.
Then, another blow came in late December, when Martinez lost his grandfather, Armando Martinez, to an illness. He was a fixture for Danny since he was a young boy and needed a male figure in his life.
Armando attended every one of Fairfax’s practices and games, shagging foul balls.
Everybody on the team loved him. He was like a coach, a mentor.
This season, baseball has provided healing for the Stampede and Martinez, under fourth-year coach Mike Greene, who took over a struggling program to build it among the best in the Phoenix Union High School District.
Martinez and Anselmo were the leaders during Fairfax’s rise, going 12-3 last year, when Anselmo played third and hit .321 and Martinez played short and batted .529 with 32 RBIs.
A shoulder injury has kept Martinez off the mound this season for all but one inning, as the Stampede hopes to make the 5A state playoffs. They are 8-6.
The injury hasn’t kept Martinez off the field, still playing short and hitting better than .500 again.
“I always feel like they’re up there watching me, so I always try to play my best ball for them,” Martinez said. “I want to be an example like my grandfather was, help them be a better teammate.
“I try to be the best teammate I can be, because I play like it’s my last moment. My friend was there one day and he wasn’t the next. I try to do it for all of them. I use them as motivation to keep me going. “
It’s a difficult process but baseball has helped with healing, not just for Martinez, but others on the team, including senior center fielder Luis Marrufo, who grew up with Martinez and Anselmo and recalls how Armando Martinez was such a mentor to everyone.
“We would play when we were little in a (youth) league and he was a good coach,” Marrufo said. “He taught us how to be good at the game. And he motivated each player individually.”
Having liver problems that were slowing him down, Armando still got around the field. He would clean up around the dugout after games, make sure everybody got what they needed, and get the baseballs together.
Greene was grateful for Armando’s help.
“Our team is based on being good teammates,” Greene said. “You do that and it covers everything.”
Greene came in with this senior group four years ago and Armando was there from the beginning.
“His grandfather was out here every day, chasing foul balls,” Greene said. “So he was a big part of our program.”
Martinez called Anselmo “our energy guy.” He’s always in Martinez’s heart.
He says losing his grandfather was “probably the worst day of my life.”
“He just created me to be a good person, so, on and off the field, I try to live for him,” Martinez said. “Baseball helps me keep my mind off of things. Just go out there and have fun for my team.
“Off the field, it gets to me. But I know they’re proud of me.”
To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at email@example.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.
Support local journalism: Subscribe to azcentral.com today.