02/20/2005 3:35 PM ET
'El Presidente' happy in new job
Former Orioles star coaching pitchers at camp
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
The first Major Leaguer from Nicaragua, Dennis Martinez broke in with Baltimore in 1976. (Roberto Borea/AP)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Do you think the young pitchers on the Orioles staff know there is a pitcher with 245 career wins lurking around camp?
Probably not, because Dennis Martinez is a rather anonymous figure as he begins his first season as the team's Spring Training pitching instructor. The four-time All-Star, tabbed as "El Presidente" during his standout career, is beginning his first Major League coaching job since retiring in 1998.
Martinez has spent the past few years working for the Visitors and Travel Bureau for his native Nicaragua and helping coach his son's baseball team at Westminster Christian High School in Miami. With his youngest son now in high school, Martinez said he felt comfortable about pursuing coaching.
"It was the right time for me to come, in this situation, to come to Spring Training," he said Sunday before the first workout for pitchers and catchers. "I want to get my feet wet, experiment and find out what it's like. And let's see what happens. I am here as a rookie. I am looking around and see who I can find and talk to. It's a great experience."
The first Major League player from Nicaragua, Martinez broke in with the Orioles in 1976 and pitched for Baltimore until being traded to Montreal in 1986 for Rene Gonzales. The right-hander recovered from alcoholism to emerge as one of the top starters in the National League during his time with the Expos.
He tossed a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 28, 1991, and played for the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves before retiring with 245 wins, the most for a Latin-born pitcher.
Martinez, 49, was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2002. He has kept in touch with Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan since the two helped anchor the Baltimore rotation in the 1970s and 80s. The father of four said it was finally time to hit the field.
"We have been talking the last few years," Martinez said. "And [Flanagan] asked me if I would like to get back and I said, 'Well, I have a situation with my kids. They are still in high school. I want to see them play and develop.' That's why I stay out of baseball for six years. I wanted to follow them up, watch them play. Now I only have the last [child]. So I feel good about helping out the Orioles."
Martinez said he realizes he will have to start from scratch with many of the pitchers, especially those who have no recollection of his playing career. Once upon a time, Martinez reported to Orioles' camp in 1973 as the lone Latino player on the roster.
Now he has the opportunity to reach out to the Latino pitchers who might need a role model. And he said he won't assume his credentials are enough to get his message across.
"I'll try to understand what's in their mind, what they think," he said. "Maybe not that many guys in here know what I did. They have too much going on in their minds to think about anybody else. Maybe they will look up and say 'Who the hell is this guy?' They might start checking the media guide and say, 'OK, this man knows what he's talking about.'"
Martinez knows about pitching and he also knows about dealing with adversity. His career was derailed by bouts with alcoholism and most baseball observers considered him done when he went 7-16 in 1983 with a 5.53 ERA. He kicked the habit and resurrected his career in Montreal.
What's more, his four All-Star appearances were all after he was clean. And his career peaked after some tough years in Baltimore. Still, he is eighth in career wins (108), seventh in starts (243) and complete games (69). So it was a crowning achievement when he was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame 16 years after leaving unceremoniously.
"That was quite a day," he said. "I had always wanted to come back to Baltimore, and it was great to be honored by the fans."
Meanwhile, he is still getting accustomed to Spring Training traditions. Instead of his No. 30 he wore as a player, club officials gave Martinez No. 84. All of the minor league coaches and instructors wear high numbers.
"Hey, I look like a football player," he said. "I am wearing a big number. But that's OK, I'll get used to it."
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.