TAMPA, FL — On an evening when the predominant narrative was giving back, Tino Martinez was takenaback.
The west Tampa native, who evolved from Jefferson High baseball star to Olympic gold medalist to mainstay of the Yankees' 1990s dynasty, arrived Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Sports Commission's fifth annual Tampa Bay Sneaker Soiree under a minimal pretense. At most, Martinez figured on a meal, mingling, perhaps smiling for a few iPhone snapshots.
"I've been here a couple of times to this event, I love the event," the two-time All-Star said. "So it was normal, support Tampa and all that. I had no idea."
Shock arrived before the main course. As a Martinez highlight montage and video testimonials played on a large screen inside TPepin's Hospitality Centre, Martinez, 47, realized he was being presented the Lee Roy Selmon Lifetime Achievement Award.
Previous winners include Derrick Brooks, Dick Vitale, even Selmon himself. Quickly, the surprise segued to flattery, then trepidation.
"I panicked because I always like to prepare for a speech and I couldn't prepare," said Martinez, who got another jolt when alerted to a half-dozen family members — including his mom, wife and daughter — seated at a table on the opposite side of the room. "I was just shocked."
The presentation to Martinez was among several highlights on a night devoted to them.
The top moments of the year for the bay area's most prominent college and professional teams were recognized, as were strident supporters of the bay area sports community, and some who have conquered physical and even financial adversity.
Longtime Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan was presented the Tom McEwen Distinguished Community Advocate of the Year honor. The Freddie Solomon Moral Courage Award went to former University of Georgia women's basketball star Medina Turner, who abandoned a hoops career to care for her dying sister Gloria.
Turner, who adopted her sister's two boys after her death, overcame homelessness through the help of Tampa-based Metropolitan Ministries and is set to graduate from the University of South Florida in 2016. Upon the presentation of the honor, a Buccaneers representative invited Turner's family to attend the Sept. 13 season opener against the Titans — in a suite — and spend time on the field before kickoff.
Sports Community Hero honorees included U.S. Air Force technical sergeant Sonya Bryson, who earned local celebrity status for her national anthem renditions during Lightning home playoff games; and 15-year-old best friends Tony Colton and Kyle Peters of Sarasota. The Lightning presented Bryson with a weekend vacation on Anna Maria Island.
Peters, who will be a sophomore at Sarasota's Riverview High, is celebrating remission from brain cancer. Colton, a sophomore at Sarasota Christian, begins chemotherapy for his kidney cancer Monday. Friends since first grade at Brentwood Elementary, their respective diagnoses occurred within a month of each other.
"(The honor) is amazing," said Peters, who along with Colton was invited by the Rays to participate in an upcoming pregame batting practice. "It's just crazy."
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
Wednesday night's winners at the fifth annual Tampa Bay Sneaker Soiree:
Lee Roy Selmon Lifetime Achievement Award
Freddie Solomon Moral Courage Award
Medina Turner (former University of Georgia basketball star, single mom of two who conquered homelessness)
Tom McEwen Distinguished Community Advocate of the Year
Ken Hagan, Hillsborough County commissioner
Sports Community Moment of the Year
University of Tampa winning Division II national volleyball championship
USF Moment of the Year
Women's basketball season (27-8, NCAA Tournament berth)
Rays Moment of the Year
Rays get one hit, Alex Cobb outduels David Price in 1-0 win (Aug. 21)
Buccaneers Moment of the Year
Receiver Mike Evans' rookie season (68 catches, 1,051 yards, 12 TDs)
Lightning Moment of the Year
2015 Eastern Conference championship
Sports Community Hero Award
U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Sonya Bryson (Lightning national anthem singer)
Tony Colton, Kyle Peters (best friends from Sarasota, fellow cancer conquerors)