As he has done in the past, Jose Martinez returned home this off-season to play winter ball in his home of Venezuela. But this year had a twist.
“It was fun because I actually got the chance to play with my brother on the same team,” shared Martinez. “But other than that I actually rested. I’ve been playing for 10 years straight. It went well. I spent a lot of time with the family.”
Fun as the experience of having his little brother in the outfield was, Martinez did have a speedbump as he suffered a pulled quadriceps sprinting to first base while trying to beat a throw.
“I was trying to go faster,” he explained. “You know when you go body, yeah, go faster now. No, he gone. The season was the groin. On the other side. Same leg. I didn’t realize that. It’s fine now.”
Playing in 15-20 games, Martinez manned first base in all of them.
“Actually was getting there early, and I just worked with that and met with guys who helped me with that position,” said Martinez. “Not even at the field. Situations and whatever the game dictates. I feel like I’m getting much better with that. There’s more to come. I think I have to put some more work. But I feel a little confidence in in it.”
Speaking of confidence, after hitting .309 in 272 at-bats and appearing in 106 games last season, Martinez enters 2018 with a stronger faith in his ability and sense that he belongs in the big leagues.
“It was a great opportunity, first of all, I have to thank the Cardinals for the opportunity they gave me,” said Jose. “Last year, it was fun. For the other side, I learned a lot because we were trying to win, we were trying to win every day. I was talking to Yadi and we’re going to do it this year too. We’re going to be more hungry about the game, about winning, about doing the stuff right about getting wins every day. Even though we’re not going to win every day, we’re going to try to do it. Everybody is thinking like that, too.”
As for whether or not he plays first base or the outfield, Martinez doesn’t have a preference.
I’m going to actually go there and work with the trainers a little more, and work on all the positions. I’m actually going to try (whatever positions) to go through the season. Like I said I don’t know what is going to happen. I want to be ready for the opportunity.
“Whatever,” he stated. So does his reference to “all the positions” included catching?
“Whatever. I’ll do it too,” smiled the 6’6 Martinez. “I got Yadi. He’ll teach me. Like I said, the most important thing for me is to break to New York with the team. I don’t care about positions or hitting. I just want to be on the team.
“I think that mentality I’m just going to take the same one. It gets me more motivated with how I’m going to get to the spot I want to be. You know what I’m saying. I think that’s the goal. To go out there and compete. Show up and be ready to go.”
Besides speaking with Molina during the off-season, the two actually got together as Yadi visited Venezuela to work with some youth players.
“Give them some advice on catching and it was pretty special,” shared Martinez. “It was actually, a lot of Venezuela – they don’t want to go to Venezuela right now. And for him to come it was pretty special because it shows that you cannot forget where you come from.
“He wanted to come. He told me ‘I want to go to Venezuela’. No you’re not going to Venezuela. No chance. He said that that night, and the next day he just told me, ‘I’m serious. I’m coming to Venezuela.’ As soon as he landed, I was like, ‘Yeah, you came. Now, I believe you.’ It was a lift for the people. He was three days there. Everything was special. My city treated him well. He liked it. I’m trying to get him back too to get him more time with the kids. He likes – it’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody. It’s like we grew up in the same area. For him to come to Venezuela it was pretty special for the kids and everything. It was good.”
Martinez was proud to share he rented a home for Molina to stay in over the visit.
“The kids are trying to get signed with professional baseball,” continued Martinez. “The situation is so hard that everybody wants to get out of Venezuela somehow. The kids are like 13, 14 – they’re practicing trying to get better a situation for their family. It’s a great experience for him just to talk and not give up and think of your family and work hard for it.”
Last season, Martinez lent perspective on just how dire the circumstances were in his native Venezuela. Unfortunately, things have not improved.
“Stuff is getting worse right now,” said Martinez. “My family is good. I know people is getting really sad about stuff. Kidnapping went up. Stuff in the street went up. Killing went up. Hope everything gets better. It’s really sad to say this. I think the only thing that you’ve got to do is get out of Venezuela. That’s the only solution that you can make.”
Martinez was unable to make a visa appointment with his young son, so unfortunately he has to continue efforts to get him into the United States. Martinez is keeping his fingers crossed to work something out for Spring Training.
photo credit: BIll Greenblatt/UPI,