For as long as baseball remains a popular pastime, generations of Americans will forever know Joe DiMaggio as "Joltin' Joe," the "Yankee Clipper," and a guy whose 56-game hitting streak remains a record after more than seven decades.
Those into celebrity culture might cite his brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe. And to others he remains "Mr. Coffee," the popular pitchman for a coffee machine of the same name.
Even now, 13 years after his death, DiMaggio remains an iconic, larger-than-life figure. Though he grew to national, even international, prominence, DiMaggio's Bay Area roots were just as celebrated.
Long associated with San Francisco, DiMaggio was actually born in Martinez (as were six of his eight siblings). Today, the DiMaggio surname remains prominent in Martinez and surrounding communities, given the presence of extended family still in the area.
On July 20, these folks, their neighbors, and people across the country will celebrate DiMaggio anew when the U.S. Postal Service debuts commemorative stamps featuring his likeness and those of fellow deceased Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams (the Clipper's most noted contemporary), Larry Doby (who broke the American League color line with Cleveland in 1947) and Willie Stargell (another Bay Area product, a graduate of Alameda's Encinal High School).
"He was born here, but his family moved to San Francisco when he was about 2," said Andrea Blachman, director of the Martinez
As a San Francisco resident, DiMaggio's prodigious baseball talents blossomed. The Pacific Coast League was in its heyday when DiMaggio rose to stardom with the hometown San Francisco Seals. In 1933, DiMaggio enjoyed a 61-game hitting streak, a PCL record that endures to this day.
Despite all this, and the greater fame that came with the Yankees, the team he joined in 1936, DiMaggio never was a stranger to the town of his birth,
"He used to come back and visit frequently in his adult years," Blachman said. "There were a lot of cousins in the area, and I think some of his brothers might have lived here, too."
DiMaggio was born Nov. 25, 1914, the eighth of nine children, to Giuseppe DiMaggio and the former Rosalie Mercurio. Both parents emigrated from Sicily, and the DiMaggio and Mercurio families soon became a major presence in Martinez, especially with Giuseppe's brother, Salvatore DiMaggio, and his wife Frances, Rosalie's sister, living next door.
As for Giuseppe and Rosalie, their family kept growing. Their oldest child, Nellie, was born in Sicily in 1898. Dominic, the youngest, came into the world in San Francisco 19 years later. All the children in between called Martinez their birthplace.
Each of the sons, who also included Joe DiMaggio's older brothers Thomas, Michael and Vincent, received the middle name Paul in honor of their father's favorite saint.
Giuseppe DiMaggio, in the vein of his ancestors, made his living as a fisherman. Tom and Mike followed in their father´s footsteps.
But the three youngest DiMaggios got bitten by the baseball bug, starting with Vince, who was two years older than Joe. At one time or another, Vince, Joe and Dom each played for the PCL's Seals, and all three made the major leagues. Dom, in particular, became a star in his own right with the Boston Red Sox.
Joe DiMaggio and his siblings all are gone. Still, the DiMaggio name remains a presence in Martinez. Though the house in which Joe DiMaggio was born and lived was destroyed by fire many years ago, another piece of former DiMaggio property remains.
In 1949, DiMaggio received a 22-foot boat, the "Joltin' Joe," as a gift from Yankees fans. DiMaggio rarely used the boat, which he kept in Martinez and donated to the city in the early 1990s. Today, the city -- in conjunction with the Sons of Italy Diablo Valley Lodge -- is spearheading an effort to restore the craft, which had fallen into disrepair.
A restored "Joltin' Joe" will serve as a legacy to DiMaggio, whose honors include three American League MVP awards and places in the Baseball, Bay Area Sports and National Italian-American Sports halls of fame.
But DiMaggio admirers won't have to wait for the completion of the restoration project to honor their hero. As of July 20, they'll only have to travel to their local post office to purchase the latest tribute to the "Yankee Clipper."