WASHINGTON – Dave Martinez stood in the Nationals’ clubhouse early in November 2017 on a fall day in which the carpeted space on this occasion was not housing 25 players.
That space had been re-configured for a press conference to introduce Dave Martinez as the new manager of the Nationals. The team had just won two National League East titles in a row under the popular Dusty Baker – whose had been dismissed – so the hiring of Martinez was met with tons of cynicism.
As a player, he performed under several top managers and even had some Hall of Fame teammates in the minors.
“I had some pretty good teachers. I learned how to play the game the right way,” he told this reporter on that November day in 2017.
While at Triple-A Iowa, one of his teammates was outfielder Terry Francona, who won two World Series titles as a manager for the Boston Red Sox. Martinez was also teammates in the minors with Greg Maddux, who won 355 games as a pitcher and is in the Hall of Fame.
Now Martinez joins Francona as a World Series manager. “A dream come true,” Martinez said of being named to the post with Washington.
When did Martinez think about being a coach after his playing career ended in 2001 with Atlanta?
“I played for a lot of years, retired, had four beautiful children,” Martinez said that day in 2017. “I thought I’d be a good coach, but really didn’t know if I wanted to be a coach because of the travel. Joe called me up, asked me to help him out in Spring Training one year, and next thing you know, I became the bench coach a couple of years later.”
“Since that moment in 2008, my first year, we ended up going to the World Series and losing,” he added. “Since then, I really had the burning sensation of being considered as a manager one day. Through process and preparation and going through all the interviews, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my skills, which led me here today.”
On the day Martinez was introduced as the Nats’ manager, general manager Mike Rizzo said: ”A guy we have thought about and known about for a long time. He is a creative mind. His resume is impeccable.”
The seed of becoming a coach began with Joe Maddon, a long-time manager in the majors.
Martinez said he first met Maddon in Instructional League in 1983 after he made his minor league debut earlier that year with Geneva and Quad Cities at the Single-A level. At the time Maddon, who played for Quad Cities in 1976, was a minor league manager with the Angels.
“He comes over and taps me on my back said I like the way you play the game,” recalled Martinez, who had never met Maddon.
Martinez was a bench coach under Maddon – now with the Angels - when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016.
A few years later, Martinez was sitting on a chair in a patio outside of the Nationals’ clubhouse in West Palm Beach before his first year as the skipper in March 2018.
He was born in New York City to parents with a Puerto Rican heritage; his father was a big baseball fan and took him to baseball games.
“I can remember Oscar Gamble and Bobby Murcer, and all those guys,” Martinez said in 2018 of those outfielders for the Yankees in the 1960s and 1970s.
Martinez turned 56 on Saturday and now has a long-term contract with the Nationals.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Rizzo said Saturday of the long-term deal for Martinez. “It’s an exciting day here at Nationals Park.”
Winning a World Series certainly gave Martinez street cred, even after this frustrating season.
“Moving forward, this team doesn’t lack much,” the bilingual Martinez said the day he was introduced as the Washington manager in 2017. “We’re here to win the World Series.”
And they did that last October.
Now comes the challenge of 2021.
“We need to get off to a quick start,” Martinez said Saturday of next year. “I don’t want to be 19-31 again.”