All-Starling: Marte rises quickly to big stage

Scout uncovered Bucs outfielder at Dominican tryout camp

All-Starling: Marte rises quickly to big stage

SAN DIEGO -- The first time Rene Gayo watched Starling Marte play baseball, he offered one of his highest compliments.

"The guys that work with me will tell you, whenever I like a guy, I say, 'Welcome to Love Town,'" said Gayo, the Pirates' director of Latin American scouting. "Starling Marte took me to Love Town."

Marte was 18 at the time, older than most international prospects, and he reported to a tryout camp in the Dominican Republic. He was raw but full of potential. Gayo recognized it from the moment he first laid eyes on him.

"To see that all these years later come to fruition is a very, very humbling experience," Gayo said. "It's a long way from down on these fields to the Major Leagues -- not just geographically, but so many things have got to happen."

Realistically, even with Gayo's well-trained eyes and instincts behind Marte, it was a long shot. So few players make it, and few reach the level that Marte has. Nine years later, the athletic teenager who signed for $85,000 has developed into a player at the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard (tonight, 7:30 p.m. ET, on FOX).

Marte arrived in San Diego on Sunday night and sat on the field during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday evening, proudly wearing his National League All-Star jersey. Earlier Monday, he thought back to that tryout camp and his conversations with Gayo.

"He's told me so many times that day I was the player that he was looking for," Marte said, quietly. "He saw me and said, 'That's the guy I want.' After that, everything was different."

Gayo had to recognize Marte to make this moment possible, but Marte had to deliver on the promise Gayo first saw in him.

"The fact that Starling has done that not only makes you proud of him, but also makes you have the utmost respect for him," Gayo said. "Starling Marte's a grown man. He's one of my heroes."

Marte marched through the Pirates' Minor League system, broke into the Majors in 2012 and steadily improved each of the last five seasons. He has blossomed into a true five-tool player, just as capable of changing a game in left field or on the bases as he is at the plate.

Marte entered the All-Star break with a .316/.363/.460 batting line, six homers, 32 RBIs and 30 steals. Those who watch him play every day will vouch for his ability and the sentiment that he deserves to be recognized among the game's elite.

"It's very special for me. That's what I work for," Marte said. "I worked to be an All-Star, and I made it."

With the help of Pirates traveling secretary Greg Johnson, Marte's family and friends mobilized quickly and gathered in San Diego. He was a late addition to the NL roster, selected as an injury replacement for Yoenis Cespedes after finishing second in the Esurance Final Vote.

Tonight, Marte takes the national stage at Petco Park. The entire baseball world might get to see him buzz around left field like the true center fielder he is, unleash a 100-mph throw from his cannon of a right arm or spray line drives around the ballpark.

In other words, they'll see the finished product that Gayo envisioned during that tryout camp all those years ago.

"That guy wasn't going to leave," Gayo said. "There's no way he was leaving without being a Pirate.

"I saw him. He made it happen."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.