Monday, May 5, 2008

Catching Up With Dave Martinez

A member of the original Tampa Bay Devil Rays roster, Dave Martinez has returned to the organization this season as bench coach for Manager Joe Maddon. As a player, Martinez spent 17 seasons in the big leagues with eight different teams from 1986-2001. A veteran of 1,919 games, Martinez collected 1,599 hits and hit .276 over his career. The starting right fielder for Tampa Bay from 1998-2000, Martinez recorded the first hit (a single) in team history as well as the team’s first inside-the-park home run. Known throughout his career as a student of the game, Martinez brings an optimistic spirit, as well as his baseball expertise, to Tampa Bay’s coaching staff.

Q. Going back to the winter of 1997, how did you make the decision to sign a free agent contract with Tampa Bay?

A. Well, I've lived here in this area for over 17 years. I've made my home here, so I wanted to be part of something new. That was a big attraction for me and my family.

Q. You provided some excitement on Opening Day by getting the first hit in team history. What are your memories of that game?

A. I remember the thrill of running out onto the field for the first time. It was such a huge honor to be on the team that finally brought baseball to the area. I felt glad to be a part of it. The attendance that day was the most people that have ever been in here, so you couldn't believe the electricity in the air.

Q. Were you able to keep the ball?

A. No, but they retrieved it from the field and sent it to the Hall of Fame. So that's pretty cool!

Q. How would you characterize the teams that you played on here from 1998-2000?

A. In the beginning, we knew it would take some time to develop our young players, so they brought in veterans like me, Wade Boggs, and Fred McGriff. It was a combination of youth and experience.

You know, we would have done a lot better if we hadn't had so many injuries. That first year, Wilson Alvarez got hurt and missed two months. I went down with a hip flexor injury in July that put me out for the season. The next year we lost Quinton McCracken, Tony Saunders, and a few others to serious injuries. That really set the team back.

Q. In July of 1998, you hit the first inside-the-park home run in team history off New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu. What do you remember about that historic at-bat?

A. Well, I hit the ball deep to left-center. Their centerfielder, Chad Curtis, tried to make a diving catch, but he missed and it got by him. So I was off to the races. I was so tired at the end I kind of did a half-slide, half-fall into home plate.

Q. In May of 2000, you were traded by Tampa Bay to the Chicago Cubs. Before the season ended, you were traded again to the Texas Rangers, and from there to the Toronto Blue Jays. What was that season like for you?

A. I'll just say it was an experience. My family and I basically lived out of our suitcases that entire summer. But it wasn't that bad, because I made friendships with teammates who I'm still in touch with to this day. As long as I've been given the opportunity to wear a big league uniform, it really hasn't mattered where I was playing. I've been traded many times throughout my career, and while the first one is the hardest, you get used to it and realize it is part of the business. I just can't believe so many teams wanted me!

Q. You played under Don Zimmer in 1988 as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Twenty years later you are colleagues here in Tampa Bay, where he serves on the coaching staff as a senior advisor. What is your relationship like with him?

A. Even before he was my manager, he was my third base coach when I broke in with Chicago in 1986. I just have the utmost respect for the man. I've sat with him many times to try and pick his brain. He is extremely knowledgeable about the game.

Q. Talk about your role as bench coach for Joe Maddon.

A. He's also a very knowledgeable guy and someone who devotes so much detail to everything about the game. What I bring to the table is my experience as a player, so I want to do anything that can help him do his job better. When he got the job, he called and asked if I wanted to help as an instructor during Spring Training. I did that for two years, and then filled in for George Hendrick as first base coach for a few weeks last season following his knee surgery. Right now I’m happy to be back in the game and enjoy being around the guys. Tom Foley, our third base coach and a former teammate of mine in Montreal, ride to the stadium together every day and he's made the transition a lot easier. This isn't where I saw myself when I retired, but it is a lot of fun and I’m grateful for this opportunity.

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