HOUSTON — On Dave Martinez’s baseballreference.com page, his birthplace is listed — correctly — as New York, New York and his high school as Lake Howell in Winter Park, Florida.
But that is not a complete picture of Martinez’s youth. The second-year Nationals manager is the first to say he’s very much a product of Long Island.
“For me, it’s memories, childhood memories,” Martinez said in an interview with Newsday before Game 4 of the World Series at Nationals Park. “A lot of my best friends, very close friends, guys I’ve stayed in touch with, I’ve known them since I was 7, 8 years old, are from there.”
The Brooklyn-born Martinez — whose Nationals trail the Astros three games to two entering Game 6 on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park — moved to Brentwood at the age of 4 and moved to Florida before what would have been his junior season at Brentwood High School.
In between, he developed the considerable skills that allowed him to play 16 years in the majors and establish relationships and memories that he still cherishes.
And those memories, which the 55-year-old Martinez recalled with a smile that never left his face, are many.
Trips to Jones Beach. Fishing expeditions that departed from Silly Lily in East Moriches that resulted in catching flounder. Roller skating or dodgeball on the weekends.
Many of those memories involve a group of teammates from that critical time in his life that remains central to his foundation. Some of those teammates he’s never lost contact with, some he has, but none has been forgotten.
“When I think back, it’s just a combination of the upbringing, how we were all really close, every weekend we were together,” Martinez said. “Those are my friends. Those are guys that had my back. You got in a fight in school, it’s over. You’re fighting seven, eight guys.”
The ones Martinez played with — whether it was with the Brentwood Youth Association summer league travel team, on the West Junior High School team or the Brentwood Sonderling junior varsity squad — remember a long and lean teenager who was a standout outfielder and stud lefthanded pitcher with a late-moving fastball and devastating curveball. Even on teams that featured several future Division I college players, Martinez stood out.
“He was a skinny little kid, but his ball had a lot of movement on it. He had those long Pedro Martinez fingers,” said Eddie Lippert, a fellow pitcher.
As an outfielder?
“He had a cannon,” Lippert said of Martinez, known almost universally among his teammates as “Tippy,” nicknamed as such for longtime Yankees and Orioles lefthander Tippy Martinez.
Another teammate from that time, Doug Vigliotti, said that on a team of talented players, Martinez “definitely stood out,” though not because of self-promotion.
“He was quiet,” Vigliotti said. “Didn’t brag about it. Just went about his business. Played the game the right way. Ran out everything. He had an arm, hit for power, average, played defense. Just a great guy.”
Another former teammate, Steve Rocco — who remains close to Martinez and attended the Nationals’ wild-card victory over the Brewers and Games 4 and 5 of the World Series in Washington as a guest of Martinez — choked up over the phone while describing his friend’s success.
That success became crystallized on June 15, 1986, when Rocco received a call from another former teammate, Dan Brennan. A mutual friend that day happened to be making his major-league debut with the Cubs at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals.
“He said, ‘Turn on the TV. You’re not going to believe who’s at-bat,’ ” Rocco said of the call from Brennan. “I got chills on my body. For me, somebody [from our group] broke through to the majors, it was so gratifying. To see somebody make it touched me deeply. His graciousness to his friends has always been awesome.”
Martinez had a .276/.341/.389 slash line with 1,599 hits, including 91 home runs, and even made a couple of appearances on the mound in his MLB career.
Martinez, who played for nine different clubs in a career that spanned from 1986-2001, recalled his years in the American League when he played at the previous Yankee Stadium. Fans seated in rightfield in those years could be rough on opposing players, to put it nicely. But those fans, some of whom might well have been from Long Island, generally took it easy on him.
“What’s cool, as a player when I went to Yankee Stadium in those years, rightfield was brutal,” Martinez said with a smile. “I played rightfield a lot, and the fans were actually really good to me because they knew I was from. [They'd yell], ‘You’re one of us, Dave! You’re all right!’ ”
With Gregg Sarra