09/30/05 8:00 AM ET
Martinez making a difference on air
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
On the surface, the reflection shows a former ballplayer who has finally returned to the Philadelphia organization after almost 20 years. But a closer look reveals a man who has become a trusted voice in the Spanish community -- both on and off the air.
"In this game, money comes fast and you can spend it fast," said Martinez, 48. "Me, I should have taken the college scholarship when I had the chance, had an education to hold on to. It's the same thing with players. They can spend all their money or do crazy things without any guidance. I try to give them some guidance."
Martinez offers that advice now, in part because he wishes he had listened to professional guidance when he was coming up as a ballplayer. But he has no regrets, and he also has no problem sharing his story if it can help another Latino player.
"I can't change the past," he said. "That does not mean something good can't come out of it."
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Martinez did not choose baseball. Baseball chose him.
He had 12 cousins who played baseball, mostly at the professional level, and he once lived across the street from the Alou family. He later lived in the same neighborhood as Dodgers great Manny Mota and Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal.
Looking back, Martinez admits there was a lot pressure to excel at the sport, but his situation wasn't any different from that of the other kids in his neighborhood.
"I never knew anything but baseball," he said. "That's normal there. Baseball is life for a lot of people. They are the heroes."
As a teenager, he moved to Queens, N.Y., and later starred on youth league teams and at Manhattan Community College. A fortuitous meeting with Dallas Green, then a scout, and an outstanding performance during a baseball tournament in Miami in 1977 resulted in two options.
The University of Texas offered him a full scholarship. Green and the Phillies offered him the opportunity to play professional baseball.
"I had just in been in the U.S. for four years. My parents did not even know English," said Martinez. "We needed [the money]. I wanted to do it. I declined the scholarship to go into baseball."
That decision changed everything, he says.
"Three years later, I banged my knee going for a ball in the Minors. In those days, technology was not as good as it is today, and I never recovered," he said. "After that, I strained my knee all the time, and it took me out of baseball. I could not run like I used to run. I was signed as one of the fastest in organization, and then I'm released because I can't run anymore."
Baseball had become Martinez's identity, and without baseball, he felt he had no identity. Not long after he was released by the Phillies organization, he tried to kill himself by throwing himself in front of a speeding car. He was hit, but did not sustain any major injuries.
"I was 21, and I freaked out," he said. "It was my dream to play in the Major Leagues, and the team calls me to take the dream away from me. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to live anymore. I'm lucky the guy driving the car was able to see my intentions, and he avoided hitting me directly. He hit me on the side as he braked. I was banged up, scratched, but I was alive."
Alive, but still angry.
Martinez eventually moved to Florida and stayed away from baseball for a few years. Another chance meeting with Green in 1982 led to a scouting job and exposure to players from Latin America who had faced similar adversity.
A wiser Martinez became an unofficial counselor for Latin players, and he even dabbled as a sports agent, primarily because he could relate to the issues that Latin American players faced.
"There were a lot of players who were released and came close to doing what I did," said Martinez. "I helped them. I showed them you can go on. Most of the guys stay here illegally, unless [they] marry, but nobody helps them. I wanted to help."
Martinez still does help, he believes, but now he does it by broadcasting games in Spanish and sharing the stories of Latino baseball players. He spent 2 1/2 years doing the Spanish radio broadcast for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and along the way became close friends with Bill Kulik, the owner of Spanish Beisbol Network. The SBN operates the Spanish radio broadcasts for the Devil Rays, Red Sox and Phillies.
Kulik, a jack of all trades who handles almost every aspect of the Spanish radio broadcast, serves as Martinez's partner in Philadelphia.
"We have been very welcome here in Philadelphia, team-side and player-side, which is wonderful," said Kulik. "The businesses that say they will support us are doing the talk, which is great, but not doing the walk. We hope that changes."
Martinez agrees. Change is something he has come to embrace during his lifetime.
"I decided to come to Philly because it's a bigger market, and that car stuff helped me to become really strong," he said. "Kids who are injured with no hope ... I can be there for those guys and relate. I see something in them that I saw in me."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.