Midsummer Classic a respite for V-Mart
All-Star honor allows slugger to enjoy bounce-back season
ST. LOUIS -- The 2009 season has been a grind and a disappointment. It has been anything but fun for Victor Martinez and his Indians teammates.For Martinez, a team leader who wears the successes and setbacks of his club on his sleeve, personal accomplishments have been outweighed by the frustrations of playing for a last-place ballclub.
Martinez's inclusion in the 80th All-Star Game festivities, then, is a welcome distraction from a year otherwise gone awry. He arrived to St. Louis with about a dozen family members, and he's looking forward to being in an environment where the pressure is momentarily off and the fun flows freely. "Getting to be here with my family and enjoying it is great," he said. "You look around and you see all these great players, and you have to enjoy it. The All-Star Game is all about having fun." This is the third time Martinez, who is the Tribe's lone representative at the Midsummer Classic, has earned this opportunity. He was also a member of the 2004 and '07 American League All-Star squads. And in '07, he hit a two-run homer that, while viewed as insurance at the time, ended up serving as the difference in the AL's 5-4 victory. Martinez beamed when the homer was brought up. "That was maybe in my top-three moments in the big leagues," he said. "It was very special." Rounding out that top three, Martinez listed his 5-for-5, seven-RBIs game in Seattle in 2004 and his walkoff home run in a win over the Twins last season. Memories of all these moments make Martinez smile. The grin wasn't quite so wide when an inevitable topic was brought up by the media at Monday's All-Star availability. Martinez was peppered with questions about the troubles of the Tribe and the possibility that he might be traded. Martinez handled all these queries with grace and class, and he made it clear that he has turned a deaf ear to the trade rumors. "I've done a pretty good job keeping away from that distraction," he said. "Whatever God has [in store] for me, that's where I'm going to be." Martinez, though, has his preference. "I would like to stay [with Cleveland]," he said, "and hopefully retire as an Indian." The Indians, of course, would ultimately like to keep Martinez, on whom they have a 2010 option, if that's possible. For he has become, in many ways, the face of the franchise he first signed with in 1996. And this '09 season, in which his body has cooperated enough for his talent to shine through, has once again established him as the heart of the Indians' order. Martinez missed two and a half months of the 2008 season, in which he strained his hamstring on Opening Day and simply never got on track. His elbow flared up early in the year and didn't get better until Martinez had surgery in mid-June to remove bone chips and spurs. Fully recovered, the 30-year-old Martinez, who has split his time between catcher and first base, had an All-Star-worthy first half. He entered the break batting .294 with a team-high 14 homers and 59 RBIs. "It makes me feel pretty good, after everything I went through last year," he said. "That was the first time in my career that I was having a lot of pain. Coming back healthy has made a big difference." Healthy or not, Martinez has long been the Tribe's greatest ambassador. He is particularly an asset by serving as a mentor for young Latin players coming up through the system. And one of those young players, catching prospect Carlos Santana, has the thrill of being in the same organization as his favorite player. Santana represented the Tribe at Sunday's XM All-Star Futures Game, and Martinez reached out to the youngster Sunday night. "I saw him, and we talked a little bit," Martinez said. "I told him I was glad I enjoyed his [Futures Game] experience, because I did it, too. He's going to be a great player." Martinez's great season has hit a rough patch in recent weeks, as he entered the break in the midst of a 4-for-46 stretch. The Indians believe the burden he's carried this year has perhaps gotten the best of him lately. For a couple days, anyway, that burden has been lifted, and Martinez can smile. And while the expected questions about various issues pertaining to the Indians came up, he also got to discuss more light-hearted topics, such as the possibility of him having to try to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleball Tuesday night. "It's tough to hit it," he said. "I can't imagine how tough it would be to catch it." Martinez sounded ready to give it a shot. Because, if nothing else, it would be fun, and that's what this experience is all about.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.