There was perhaps no one more excited to attend the recent St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up than Jose Martinez.
“It means a lot just to be here still in St. Louis,” he smiled. “Like I’ve been saying, this is the first organization that actually gave me an opportunity, and I always have my phone on me and see what they’re talking about and what’s going on, but I have faith [I’d] stay here. This is my team, my family. I want to be around.”
But with the team’s commitment to Dexter Fowler to get another opportunity to start in right field, the future has been uncertain for Martinez.
“Uh, yes,” Martinez answered when asked if there were times he thought he might be traded. “Especially after the season, as soon as the season got over, there were those comments that I saw. But I went home, spent time with my kids, spent time with my family, played a little winter ball and I’m here again. You just have to take advantage of the opportunity again. Everything starts from zero. This is a new year, and I know it’s going to be positive for us.”
That positive attitude is just one of the attributes that kept the Cardinals from rushing into a move to deal the popular Martinez. There’s also his offensive prowess. In the 822 at-bats since he made his MLB debut in September of 2016, Jose Martinez has hit .309 with 31 home runs and 109 runs batted in for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I’m not a kid at all, and I understand situations and stuff,” Jose explained. “Somebody might say, ‘Are you mad because this happened?’ I’m not. Dexter, for sure, needs a second opportunity. He’s a great player, a great dude, a great teammate. He’s going to do great this year. I’m saying this because I love the guy, and as soon as I [got to] know him, he was telling me how to do stuff. I hope he does well.”
“Had good conversations with Josie this offseason–what a great guy,” Mike Shildt said. “He just wants to be–he loves being a Cardinal. He broke in with us. He wants to win, he wants to win a world championship with us. He’s excited about just being participatory on the team. He wants to play, deserves to play–he’s been one of the better hitters in the league for a year plus now. So, as far as role goes, it’s hard to anticipate that completely in earnest right this moment. But if you looked at it, everything is as we expect it to be, Josie kills lefties, so you can expect about on average every four days or so there is going to be a lefty, him to have a good chance to be in the lineup.”
Martinez also fills a huge need off the bench for St. Louis. A career .408 (20-49) pinch hitter, Jose hits well against both left and right-handed pitchers.
“That at-bat is huge,” Shildt continued. “If you’re in the lineup there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get an impactful at-bat over the course of three or four at-bats, but if we know he can be ready to hit for a pitcher at any time based on the pitcher’s readiness to be pulled out of the game then that’s an asset as well. A lot of different ways we can use Josie and incorporate him, and we will.”
“You have to be clear in these situations and you have to anticipate what is going,” Martinez said. “Shildt is going to be clear to you. He’s going to pull you on the side and say, ‘Hey, this what we have for you. This is what’s going to happen.’ I think whatever the decision he is going to make, even though I’m not going to be the starter, or I’m going to be the first off the bench, whatever he decides, I’m going to be there. I have his back because I know he has my back. And whatever the decision, I’m just going to be happy to be in that Cardinal uniform that day. Every day that I show up is going to be the same.”
Baseball puts a smile on the face of Martinez. But the situation in his native Venezuela brings about a much more somber look.
“That is never going to stop,” said Martinez, who has helped provide food and supplies to those in need. “Even though we’re in a bad situation, it’s the kids that matter. They are the ones who suffer more. That’s the idea that everybody has to follow.
I’m going to go back there because I need to be in my house because there are going to be some times, especially this week, that are going to be a little shaky. I need to be with my sons. I don’t want to be here all worried and stuff. I prefer to be with them. I hope nothing worse happens, but I prefer to be there. I’ll be back in early February to attend Spring Training.”
The Cardinals have been trying to help Martinez secure visas for his family to join him in the United States, but like the rest of his countrymen, that has been difficult at best.
“It’s worse,” Martinez described. “It’s not like everybody can go there. Lucky for me, I’m a professional player and can go there. But there are thousands of people, a million, that are trying to get a visa appointment to try. You cannot. It’s bad to say, but people are just getting used to it, expecting bad stuff everywhere. We stay together. We’re going to stay together, me, my country, my hometown. They know that they can count on me for whatever. I’m going to try to be a big helper.”
The Big Helper. It may not be the catchiest of nicknames and isn’t likely to replace Cafecito, but it certainly fits Jose Martinez.
photo credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI, Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports