Martinez Makes His Way

The story of Fernando Martinez seems to build with every passing week, with every accomplishment. His natural skills catch the eye of every spectator. As another young gem of the farm system, observers lie waiting as he takes each step towards his future. Here is another installment of the Fernando saga.

With an hour and a half remaining before game time on May 28, three kids are relaxing in the first base concourse of NYSEG Stadium, across from the entrance to the Binghamton Mets' clubhouse. If they were not in ballplayers' uniforms, you might mistake them for one of the other kids running around preparing the pretzels and the popcorn.

Two, Jose Reyes and Jose Coronado, are sitting, serenading passersby with a Spanish tune. The third, Fernando Martinez, standing to their left next to a trash bin, is not singing, just talking, smiling.

The expectations placed on Martinez might be unfair—not to the centerfielder's talent, which B-Mets manager Mako Oliveras and hitting coach Nelson Silverio are cultivating, but to his age: 18-years-old playing in Double-A after becoming, at 17, the believed-to-be youngest player in the Arizona Fall League last offseason.

"Well, sometimes I think they are unfair," Oliveras said. "But the way he's been handling all this hype and pressure is outstanding. He knows what it takes, he's not letting all that press get to his head and he's working hard."

The Mets signed Martinez as an international free agent in July of 2005 for $1.4 million, when he was 16. He has been playing baseball since he was eight years old in his hometown of Santo Domingo.

"Santo Domingo is very hot and it's practice, practice, practice," Martinez said. "But it's good for baseball players. A lot of people like baseball and I think Santo Domingo has a lot of good players."

At the time of Martinez's signing, Mets general manager Omar Minaya told reporters: "He had a few teams that were very interested in him, but he chose us at least in part because of the influence of Pedro."

But Martinez said it was not Pedro's presence as much as his fondness for the Mets that made him one.

"No, people said that, but it really wasn't [Pedro]. I like New York, I like the Mets, I like this team, that's it."

He is a Met now, regardless of what the deciding factor was, and he is doing well in 2007: entering June 1, Martinez is batting .289 with two home runs, 13 RBI and three stolen bases.

"The home runs will come later, my average is good," Martinez said. "This is my second year, I'm very happy."

Silverio explained what the plan is for Martinez is at the plate: "We want the kids to be good hitters first, the power's there. Just concentrate more on being a gap-to-gap guy, line drives instead of trying to lift the ball. If you become a good hitter, then you become a power hitter."

On defense is where Martinez requires the most work. Every day before games, Martinez takes fly balls in the outfield. A five-tool player, Martinez covers plenty of ground in center; the key for him is honing his instincts and his reads off the bat.

But it can be hard to track a ball you cannot see. In the second inning of that game against New Hampshire, the B-Mets' final in a seven-game home stand, designated hitter Rob Cosby lifted a high fly into shallow left field. Martinez and left fielder Corey Coles both had a chance at the ball, but Martinez called off Coles. Martinez, on a bright day, also had no sunglasses on, so the ball dropped, allowing two runs to score.

"That's something he'll learn," Oliveras said. "I guarantee that'll be the last time he forgets to do that, because he knows that was a mistake, and he's very proud of everything that he does. I guarantee that you won't see him in a day game with out flips."

A pair of forgotten shades is about the worst thing Martinez has done this season. The best may have been about a week earlier, on May 22 against Connecticut. Martinez, 0-for-4 on the day, was batting with two down in the bottom of the ninth in a game tied at 5. Defender reliever Ben Cox threw a slider, and Martinez sent it right back from where it came, a sharp groundball into centerfield passing just to the right of second base, and a winner for the B-Mets.

"Seeing Martinez get that clutch hit really makes me happy," Oliveras told the Press & Sun-Bulletin. "That time, he showed me that even though he's a young kid, 18 years old, he showed me a lot of savvy. It's like an old guy was hitting there, the way he made that adjustment and hit that ball up the middle."

Martinez's worst day at the plate was April 29, when he struck out three times in the first four innings—taking an ugly swing on a pitch well above the zone the third time—before being pulled.

"He's that kind of kid, he's learning right now, he's in that process," said B-Mets right fielder Miguel Negron, who as a first round draft pick in 2000 understands the position Martinez is in. "I think he's doing really well, he's only 18 years old, and he's going to be one of the top players in this organization for a long, long time."

Martinez was not singing with Coronado and Reyes because he is one of the quieter B-Mets. But get to talking to him and you can see his excitement, his youthful exuberance. Still, he does not possess the same extroverted flare as Jose Reyes.

"He's very quiet, he's very reserved, he's a gentleman all the way," Oliveras said. "Well-mannered, coach-able kid, listens. But Fernando's got a lot of fire inside of him when he crosses the [foul] line."

That fire could get Martinez to the big league Mets sooner rather than later.

"We don't know, it's too early to know," said vice president for player development Tony Bernazard when asked in May about a potential call-up for Martinez later in the season."

Martinez's friend, Carlos Gomez, is already playing at Shea. When Gomez was called up, Martinez was one of the first he called.

"He called me, and I said ‘Hey, congratulations man! Hey, smart, smart, you need to play hard over there, because somebody's watching,'" Martinez said. "Carlos is my friend, I see him at home in Santo Domingo sometimes."

But Martinez is only 18. He says he does not think about all the press he receives, all the hype. His English—which he unnecessarily apologizes for—has improved markedly since the beginning of the season, and he says is not something that holds him back. Neither does, he says, his age.

"No, for me no. I don't think any of that," Martinez said. "No, really, really, it's only one thing: I need to play. I need to play hard every day, I need to run hard, I need a base hit, I need contact. That's it, Idon't think about the rest of it."

"Because, you know, I like baseball. This is my life," Martinez added.

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories