He just keeps working: Love of the game and desire to be the best drives the Red Sox slugger.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — That mixture of pride in making one proud, gratitude and melancholy that accompanies reflecting on time spent with a lost loved one colored the words of J.D. Martinez after the Red Sox completed their first full-squad workout.
Paul Casanova, a Cuban-born catcher who spent 10 seasons in the big leagues, stoked the flames of baseball passion in many a young ballplayer, including Martinez, at his academy in Miami.
Before Martinez’ first spring session with the media, manager Alex Cora mentioned the designated hitter’s passion for the game never runs dry, which made one wonder: Is Martinez so passionate about baseball because he’s so good at it, or is he so good at it because he’s so passionate about it?
“I think, personally, I’m good because I’m passionate about it,” Martinez said. “If you look back at my history, when I was in college, in high school, in Little League, the minors, I wasn’t the best. I was never the best on my team.”
Surviving baseball is tough, like running a marathon tough, so encouraging words along the way tend not to fade.
“My old mentor, Paul Casanova, rest in peace, used to tell me all the time, back when high school practice would end and college practice would end, and I would go at 7 o’clock at night and do my homework when I was hitting in the cage, he used to tell me, ‘Flaco (skinny), you keep working like this, one day you’re going to pass everybody.’ Those are words I’ve always lived by,” Martinez said.
He wasn’t the best player on his Little League team? Who was?
“All the Little League kids,” Martinez said. “I always made the All-Star team, but I wasn’t the guy. Same thing in high school and college.”
He was selected by the Astros in the 20th round of the 2009 draft out of Nova Southeastern College, an NCAA Division II school in Florida.
He was not even considered the best player on his team last year, according to American League MVP voters. He finished three spots behind winner Mookie Betts.
“There is no way the analytics guys are ever going to let that happen. In order for a DH to win MVP, they’re going to have to walk on water,” Martinez said. “That’ll never happen. It became the talk in the clubhouse last year and everyone was like, ‘The only way you’re going to win it is if you win the Triple Crown, and I was like, ‘100 percent, that’s the only chance.’ “
Martinez didn’t walk on water, but he might have made a pitcher or 10 hit the sauce pretty hard after he ruined their outings.
He hit .330 with 43 home runs, 130 RBI and 111 runs scored, MVP numbers in most seasons. The Indians’ Jose Ramirez hit 60 points lower and drove in 25 fewer runs than Martinez, yet finished ahead of him in the MVP voting. Ridiculous. Spare me their WAR rankings. When it comes to WAR, I’m the leader of the peace movement.
A terrific all-around talent, Angels center fielder Mike Trout didn’t have nearly the year Martinez had, either. He finished second to Betts, a Gold Glove right fielder.
“When it came out last year, I expected it, and I actually kind of laughed about it,” Martinez said of finishing fourth. “I know what my peers think of me. ... I won the Players’ Choice (award) for (Player of the Year), and that to me was huge, just to be voted by my peers.”
His home run totals tailed late in the season, which he attributed to a strained oblique muscle that kept him from coiling and uncoiling in typical fashion. He said it healed two weeks before the postseason.
For the record, Martinez did not begrudge his teammate winning the MVP election.
“Phenomenal season, both offensively and defensively,” Martinez said. “He did a lot of things to help us win every day. There’s a reason he won MVP last year.”