University of Baltimore MFA student and super mom Austrie Martinez tells the magical story of how she and her family met and befriended Adam Jones–it reads like the stuff of legend, and it’s 100 percent true.
My wife, Denise, was strapping on her duty belt for work as I watched the Orioles postgame interviews. She worked night security at a psych hospital and often missed the end of the game. As she tuned in via radio, we’d text each other throughout the nine innings.
One night, she leaned over the couch to kiss me upside down four times, our tradition, before heading out the door.
We always kiss four times in a row because it’s my favorite number–I hate odd numbers. What can I say, I’m a superstitious sports fanatic and, as a diehard Orioles fan, I’ll wear the same shirt four days in a row if it means a win for my team.
“I love you, be safe and come home to me,” I told her as she stepped outside. “I always will. Love you,” she answered and closed the door.
As I turned to watch the rest of the postgame interviews, Denise opened the door and poked her head in. “Adam Jones is out here,” she said and closed the door behind her. I quickly hopped off the couch. Denise was already around the corner headed for the parking lot as I stepped outside. The air was thick and humid and dozens of moths were dancing around the porch light. I waved a few from my face as my eyes searched our front patio.
Where was he? His skin was dark and he was a pretty big guy. I didn’t want to scare him off by always coming out to say hi, but I loved to see him hanging out around our place at night. One time, as I came home late from class, I saw him on the neighbors’ patio and my heart sank. I wanted him to like our place more.
I took a few steps down the sidewalk and still didn’t see him. I sighed, giving up, and turned to walk back inside when I spotted him. He’d been sitting next to the front door this entire time. I must have overlooked him.
“Heyyy!” I whispered to him and reached into my basketball shorts for my cell phone. Maybe I’d get a good picture to post on Instagram.
I knelt next to his fat body. His golden brown eyes stared in either direction. Big brown bumps were located behind his eyes and a few other brown spots scattered around his sagging skin. He was so large that his sides spilled over his arms and legs. He was a perfectly fat toad—I loved him.
The first night we found him on the patio was during the 2014 Home Run Derby and Adam Jones, the Orioles center fielder, was representing Baltimore. He was my favorite and the O’s fans loved him too. Adam Jones was authentically involved in the city by working with inner-city teams and winning the key to the city for his efforts at the Y of Central Maryland. His billboards were posted everywhere and he was our state’s baseball hero—no question. Naming our new toad friend Adam Jones was the right choice.
After every home run Adam smashed, the kids and I would sing, “OR-I-OLES… OHHH! OH! OR-I-OLES! OHHH! OH!”
We sang our celebratory song four times in a row, for good luck.
The kids loved looking for Adam Jones the toad on those hot summer nights when we’d flick on our porch light and hope he’d show. Sometimes we’d run outside barefoot to hear our feet slap on the pavement before finding him perched on a pile of stones or hiding in tall blades of grass.
I’d scoop him up in my hands and feel his cool body against my palms. The kids would giggle and hop up and down before running their little fingers over his back, whispering, “Hi Adam Jones!” They seemed to wait for him to respond.
I’d set him back down on the pavement or back in the grass and we’d head inside where the kids would shriek with delight as they told Denise they’d touched Adam Jones. She hated toads. But she always spotted him on her way to work and reported his location.
One night after my mom babysat the kids, Denise and I saw him on our way inside.
I ushered my mom out the door to show her the toad we cherished and introduced her to him. “Isn’t he huge? We named him Adam Jones, isn’t that funny?” I asked her and she nodded before backing away. Apparently she wasn’t a big fan of toads either. But now she could place a toad-face to a name whenever the kids would tell her Adam Jones was on our patio.
A week later I was pacing our living room watching Kansas City demolish the O’s when my phone rang. Mom’s face appeared on my iPhone’s screen and I swiped right with my finger to answer.
“Hellooooo?” I answered, anxious to get off the phone to watch the rest of the game.
“YOU DIDN’T TELL ME ADAM JONES WAS A BASEBALL PLAYER!”
“You never told me that Adam Jones was a baseball player,” she repeated.
“What are you talking about?”
“I was at the store and these two ladies were talking about Adam Jones and I got really excited thinking they knew about your toad. So I went up to them, like, ‘You know about my daughter’s toad?’ and they looked at me like I was a total dumbass.”
I couldn’t stop laughing. How could she not know who Adam Jones was? She’s lived in Maryland for years and we are such a proud baseball state. With the O’s having such a hot season, it was black and orange Orioles’ magic every day.
“You seriously went up to some random people and asked if they knew about your daughter’s toad? And how do you not know who Adam Jones is?” I started laughing again and leaned over to tell Denise who joined in the laughter.
“I don’t pay that much attention!” she pleaded.
“Obviously!” I answered.
The Orioles ended up losing to the Kansas City Royals in the second round of the playoffs and our season was over. I watched with Denise as a different black and orange team, the San Francisco Giants, went on to play against Kansas City and eventually win the championship.
Adam Jones the toad disappeared around this time, as did the other smaller toads that would hop around the sidewalks on occasion. The kids and I kept looking for him every night as the sun went down. We’d open the door anticipating Adam’s nonchalant expression on his chubby face. But alas, he was never there. After brushing their teeth and reading them a bedtime story, we’d peak out their second story to window to search.
I searched online and read about toad behaviors and spoke with the kids about how toads hibernate in the winter by burying themselves in the dirt below the frost line. During the snowy days and freezing rain, we’d imagine his hefty body buried deep in the earth, nice and warm, dreaming of summer weather. As spring approached, the kids and I would search for him on our porch and on the sidewalks near the house, unsure of when exactly toad season would start.
March was full of chilly weather—too cold for toads, we concluded.
The 2015 baseball season kicked off on April 10th with more unpleasant weather. Denise and I attended the home opener at Camden Yards and were glued to the TV the rest of the week as the Orioles batted rough.
Every night we’d open the door but there was no sight of Adam Jones the toad. After my night classes I’d rush down the sidewalk hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
Perhaps our toad season was a fluke, as the O’s season seemed to be last year. 2015 was stacked with player injuries and loss upon loss. My heart just sank as the opposing teams cranked home runs.
Perhaps this past winter was too harsh for everyone. Denise and I had run aground financially, I was rushed to the emergency room during a snowstorm and came home with crutches, and Denise and I were both gaining weight we didn’t want.
I desperately wanted a glimmer of hope. I needed it! (Denise and I both did.) We were approved for food stamps and I would search for coupons on the regular, same as I would try to make dinner from any possible ingredients we had in the cabinets. Denise and I were eating ramen for dinner almost nightly because it was less than a dollar, but meanwhile we tried to save the best food for the kids. A few times I’d embarrassingly slid a handful of quarters over the counter at the gas station to pay for a couple of gallons, something I hadn’t done since high school.
Summer semester started at my graduate school. I pulled into the parking garage and scanned my parking pass, waiting for the bar to be raised so I could search for a spot near the elevator. But the bar didn’t lift as expected. I scanned my pass again. Nothing. I scanned it over and over before the parking attendant came out and told me that my parking pass account had run out of funds and to push the ticket button. I’d have to pay five dollars to park during my two and a half hour class. I started to cry and texted my wife while my tears dotted the iPhone screen.
After class the sky erupted into a torrential downpour and I didn’t have an umbrella. I sloshed through the city, water streaming down the streets and rain soaking my clothes. I paid the parking attendant with a few soggy dollar bills and a handful of change. My mascara was running down my cheeks. What the fuck was happening? This is my life right now: food stamps, nightly ramen noodles, and the gaslight popping on in my car? I drove home in silence as the windshield wipers swatted.
Someone was parked in my parking spot at our apartment complex and I ended up having to walk another block through the rain to our apartment. As I struggled to fit the key into the lock something caught my eye and I glanced down. Underneath the porch light was Adam Jones. He was staring blankly into the night, glistening from the rain. I crouched down–suddenly unaware of the puddle I was standing in–and ran my finger down his bumpy back. I sat in the puddle next to him for a few minutes, staring into the night, feeling consoled by his company. In a while, I walked inside and told Denise about Adam Jones’ return—she tried to find him, but he was gone.
The next morning my aunt called and offered me a side job at the store she owns. Two days later my uncle emailed and offered me family tickets to an Orioles game for the next week. A few of the Orioles players were activated off the disabled list and we won a handful of games with Adam Jones hitting some home runs. My mom paid my school parking plan and Denise and I sold some items on Craigslist for extra money. Working the shifts at my aunt’s store made me feel needed and purposeful. I even had a few extra dollars in my pocket.
I haven’t seen Adam Jones since the one rainy night, but four other small toads have started hanging around on our patio. I smile when I see them. Toad season has returned, baseball is back, and maybe we’ll be okay for a little while.
Let’s get real. We’ve got four lucky toads on the patio: Manny Machado, Buck Showalter, Steve Pearce, and J.J. Hardy—all Orioles players, of course.
Austrie Martinez is a graduate student in memoir in the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts program at the University of Baltimore. Before going back to school, she spent many years in the military. This is her first published essay.