Dave Martinez, named Monday to manage the Washington Nationals, spent the summer of 1985 playing for the Winston-Salem Spirits.
A third-round draft choice out of Valencia Community College, Martinez was 20 years old. He didn’t turn 21 until September 26, by which time he was either back home in Winter Haven, Fla., or, more likely, with the Cubs’ Fall Instructional team.
Martinez passed through town during the 20 or so seasons I was the primarily baseball beat guy for the Winston-Salem Journal, when I was covering an average of 50 games a season. It dawned on me one day that 20×50=1,000, a conservative estimate of the games I watched and reported on at Ernie Shore Field.
Peering down from the tight, cramped and sweaty press box hanging over the lip of the grandstand roof – the one with the greatest view of a game I’ve, to date, ever had — I could tell Martinez was a good one. Hell, anyone could tell he was a good one.
He hit .342, winning the Carolina League batting crown by a margin greater than Usain Bolt would beat this old boy in a 100-yard dash. Keith Miller and Johnny Wilson, both with the Lynchburg Mets, tied for second in the race, with averages of .302.
And oh yeah, there was the 6-1, 185-pound rookie out of Arizona State playing center field that season for the Prince William Pirates. His name was Barry Bonds, and he hit .299 in 254 at-bats.
It has often been said that at every baseball game, if you watch closely enough, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.
I don’t remember all that much about Martinez’ season, other than the Spirits, in their first season as an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, won the first-half race, tanked in the second half to finish with the worst regular-season record in the CL, and then rallied under manager Cal Emery to beat Lynchburg for the league title.
One of the umpires to work the championship series was Angel Hernandez, who has been a major-league umpire since 1991. I do remember Angel and his partner, J.T. Thomas, passing my bride Tybee and I on Highway 29 on our way up to Lynchburg for the championship series.
Hernandez was driving, and he was booking. I wondered what his hurry might be until Tybee and I checked in the luxurious (not) Harvey’s Motel and found Angel and J.T. in their swim trucks at poolside.
So it’s funny what you do remember.
There was one afternoon game – so it was probably a Sunday — when this one rogue cloud rolled off Shorefair Drive, over the right-field wall. And I looked out in right and there was Martinez standing in the most localized rain shower I’ve ever seen.
The shower was so localized that the center fielder was dry, the first baseman was dry, the second baseman was dry, everybody on the field, in fact, was dry except for Martinez. I remember Dave looking around and shaking his head in amazement.
Never seen anything like it, before or since.
Martinez was one of seven players from that Class A team in make the majors. The most notable were left-hander Jamie Moyer and switch-hitting catcher Damon Berryhill, but second baseman Rich Amaral, catcher Rick Wrona, outfielder Rolando Roomes and left-hander Drew Hall were also eventually immortalized in the Baseball Encyclopedia.
The Cubs saw enough from Martinez for start him out the next spring in Class AAA Iowa. But by mid-June he was promoted to the bigs to replace an injured Bobby Dernier.
Martinez, once in Chicago, met Lisa, the girl of dreams, and embarked on a major-league career that spanned 16 seasons with nine different clubs. He didn’t have the power (91 career homers) most organizations are looking for in an outfielder but he was a professional hitter who could play all three outfield positions and first base and was clutch coming off the bench to pinch-hit.
Over 6,480 plate appearances in the majors, Martinez hit .276 with an on-base percentage of .341.
Joe Maddon, then manager at Tampa Bay, liked Martinez bat, but he liked his baseball mind even more. Martinez retired to become Maddon’s bench coach, and followed him to Chicago in 2015 when Maddon was named manager of the Cubs.
Catching Martinez in the Cubs’ dugout from time to time, I couldn’t help but wonder how these past 32 years have treated him. Apparently, it was pretty good. He and Lisa have four children, David, Jagger, Dalton and Angelica.
Jagger was good enough at soccer to play for the team at the University of Tampa.
When you watch all these young men play baseball for the local minor-league team, you can’t help but wonder how they’re lives will turn out. I’m happy to see that Dave Martinez, once he dried off from that localized rain storm in right field, turned out pretty well.