LAKELAND, Fla. — Victor Martinez has settled into his new digs with the Detroit Tigers just fine. When he looks back on his time with the Red Sox, it’s only with fondness, despite the fact that it ended rather abruptly.
“It’s a business,” Martinez said Tuesday morning when asked if he harbored any resentment toward Boston for not coming after him harder during the offseason. “I can tell you I’m happy, my family is happy. I’m going to get this opportunity with you guys to thank the Red Sox organization, the fans. It was one of the best experiences for me for my career, and I can’t say anything but great things about the Red Sox organization.
“There’s no hard feelings at all. I wish every single guy the best of luck. I got no words to describe the time we spent there.”
Such words should come as no surprise for those who went to war alongside Martinez for the year-plus he spent in Boston. Traded to the Red Sox at the deadline in 2009, he instantly stole playing time from the revered team captain, a scenario that might have had lesser people feeling out of sorts.
Martinez ran with it, earning respect from his teammates and the coaching staff right away..
“He instantly became a good teammate, a leader,” Boston manager Terry Francona said Tuesday. “That’s a hard thing to do. When you come in in the middle of a season, everybody’s’ in their routine, and he found a way because of his personality and his leadership to get guys to follow him, which is not easy to do. Guys took to him after the first day. It’s a compliment to him.”
Martinez hit .313 and posted a .497 slugging average in his 183 games with the Red Sox, both above his career norms. He made the All-Star team for a fourth time in 2010, even though injuries hampered him throughout the campaign.
Entering his age-32 year a free agent, Boston took a look at its catching situation and was OK letting Martinez find a new home, perhaps cognizant of the rigors of the position and knowing that he would be a designated hitter/first baseman going forward.
Detroit not only offered more money, it came to an agreement in terms of positioning that pleased Martinez, who will catch 2-3 times a week and serve as the DH the rest of the time.
“I was good with it,” he said.
The Venezuela native said that he likes the direction of his new team and feels that ownership will do what is necessary to put a winner on the field. Still, he couldn’t help but notice what his former team did this offseason.
“They just got better, they just got stronger,” Martinez said of Boston’s high-profile moves. “They got stronger in the pitching staff, on offense. It’s gonna be tough. Too bad last year we had a lot of people that got hurt, but you can’t do anything about that. They just got better.”
That said, Martinez looks extremely comfortable in his Tigers skin. Perhaps the most difficult part of the move was telling his son, Victor Jose, that he had to leave the Boston clubhouse, a place in which the little boy was adored (Francona called him “the cutest kid in the American League”).
Victor Jose was great pals with the son of David Ortiz, D’Angelo, and a fixture both before and after games.
“Yeah, it was tough for him,” Martinez said. “We had to talk to him a lot. It’s a kid, but trying to make him understand that this is the hard part of the game.”
It is, but it also provides an opportunity for reunions such as those that were seen Tuesday at Joker Marchant Stadium. Francona, for one, was grateful to have an opportunity to see the family once again.
“That’s the good part of this game,” Francona said of seeing Martinez again. “You stay in this game long enough you show up somewhere and you see people you’re crazy about.”
Martinez signed very early in the offseason, doing so around Thanksgiving. He said he “got what we wanted and didn’t see any reason to keep waiting.” Once again, he stressed that moving on had nothing to do with his time in Boston.
“Great experience. For me and my family, it was a great experience,” he said. “My family, my son?They treated my family [with respect]. As players, that’s one of the things you are looking for to go out there and play and give your all.”
Now, he’ll do that in Detroit, and it’s a safe bet his teammates will follow.