John Martin, a longtime NESN camera man whose battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) brought an extraordinary rally of support from his friends in the sports media and Boston fans, died Sunday. He was 51 years old.
“John passed away yesterday, almost exactly two years from the day he was diagnosed with ALS,’’ his wife, Adrienne, posted on social media Monday morning. “He was asked to handle more than any human should be asked to and he did so well, as well as anyone could, in this awful situation.
“He really hung in there and right up until the end he was still so John, funny & cheeky and stubborn & bossy, handsome and charming.’’
Martin was a respected and well-liked figure during his 19 years at NESN, where he was the videographer for many of the most memorable Red Sox and Bruins moments over the last two decades.
The cameramen on the Boston sports beat are a tight-knight group, finding camaraderie in the grind of the job. So when Martin revealed in January 2017 that he had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and had to retire, his colleagues searched for a way to acknowledge what their friend was going through while also helping raise funds to help pay for his medical costs and the family’s needs.
Thus the concept of Café Martin was born. Café Martin is a real place — the patio of the Martins’ home in Newton, where friends such as Bryan Brennan and Patrick Gamere, former cameraman colleagues at NESN, would stop by to have some laughs, maybe a few drinks, and remind him that he was never far from his thoughts.
“It’s like what you see in some of the older movies — people just sitting out in front of their homes or businesses, just talking and having some drinks and enjoying the company,’’ said Gamere. “Just talking about everything, you know?’’
Former NESN reporter Paul Devlin came up with the idea to sell Café Martin merchandise to raise funds, in particular hats. The extroverted Brennan used his endearing social media presence to get the word out, and it continued to spread.
Brennan said in May that Martin was a great teammate even after he had to leave NESN.
“He never lost the love of the job, or the love of the people he worked with. When you’re on the road, you’re gone for a long time and people don’t really talk to you. You’re not as friendly with the players as people think. You’re very much lonely.
“John never forgot that and always reached out. He was the one guy who on some part of the trip would check in and ask, ‘How’s everything going? Your scenics [i.e. scenes] the other day were outstanding.’
“Or he’d text me during a game to say, ‘Man, great replay you got there, perfect angle.’ And I’d think, ‘Holy cow, he’s at home watching.’ But really he’s just making sure I was doing OK on the road.’’
“Yes, [Café Martin is] to raise a few bucks,’’ said Brennan. “But mostly it’s to say, ‘You’re here with me. We’re thinking of you.’ ’’
It wasn’t just Martin’s friends who got involved. So too did some of the people he covered. Pedro Martinez stopped by Café Martin before sportswriter Steve Buckley’s annual Oldtime Baseball Game in Cambridge in August. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was a visitor. Patriots owner Robert Kraft introduced himself to Martin while wearing a Café Martin hat.
And in early September, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder shouted out Martin during a show at Fenway.
In June, Martin sent to the Globe a letter of appreciation thanking his friends in the media for their support, especially when they’d come to visit Café Martin.
“Regardless of how my day may have been going, there was always a [Boston sports media] brother or sister to bring a smile or change the mood,’’ he wrote. “It was as an honor to be on both sides of that exchange.’’
Gamere watched Game 1 of the Red Sox-Yankees playoff series with Martin and a few friends at his home. Brennan had visited the night before. “I think he took a lot of comfort in knowing that he was loved,’’ said Gamere Monday. “What a gift.’’
Adrienne Martin wrote Monday that there would be a memorial celebration in the coming weeks and that family — the Martins have two young daughters — was grateful for the support the past two years.
“The girls and I are doing ok,’’ she wrote. “Mostly because of all of you & all of your love & support. I cannot tell you how much peace that brought him, knowing we have this big, beautiful community with us forever. Thank you so much for that.’’