He finds inner peace, and maybe job


February 24, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles outfielder Chito Martinez reported to camp yesterday, even though he isn't permitted to take part in structured workouts for a few more days. He just couldn't wait that long.

The days are growing longer and the lure of baseball has returned, something Martinez did not expect when he was wishing away the 1992 season. He is here with a chance to win a full-time job in right field, but there was a time he wondered if he would be coming back at all.

Life was not very good last year. The season that was supposed to be a career-maker turned into a career crisis, and that was only the half of it. Martinez seemed to keep things together -- he recovered from a horrible start to finish with respectable numbers for his limited role -- but inside he was falling apart.

"I was down," he said. "I didn't want to play baseball anymore. I wasn't happy with where I was at or what I was doing. I got to the point that I was happy I wasn't in the lineup. I don't know if Johnny [Oates] realized it or not, but I was almost glad when I got to the park and my name wasn't on the lineup card."

No one had a clue. Martinez had knocked around the minor leagues too long to be unhappy at the major-league level. He was making real money. He was in the show. No one, least of all Oates, suspected that he might be so discouraged.

"That just shows you that no matter how much you try to be observant, you can't see everything," Oates said.

He may not have seen it because the problem did not relate entirely to baseball. Martinez was frustrated by his lack of playing time, but he was dealing with that. It was his inner self that was in a slump.

Perhaps it would be helpful to backtrack a bit. Martinez came to the major leagues in July of 1991 and hit 13 home runs to win a place in the club's plans for '92. He came to Twin Lakes Park last year with a chance to earn a starting job in right field.

It didn't turn out that way, of course. He went 0-for-April and veteran Joe Orsulak went on a three-month tear. Martinez ended the season with just five home runs and 25 RBI in 198 at-bats and went home hoping he would be taken in the expansion draft.

No one saw much of him this winter. Nearly every member of the Orioles lineup showed up at the stadium at one time or another to work out, even the ones who live out of state, but Martinez remained at home in Memphis, Tenn., to sort out his life. He returned yesterday to tell of a spiritual renewal that he hopes will give his life and his baseball career new meaning.

"I've gotten my direction set," he said. "I have my goals set. My main goal is to serve God the best way I can. I'm going to try to live my life the best way I can live it."

This is not exactly a story of religious conversion. Martinez was a Christian when he arrived in the major leagues. It is what happened after he got here that caused him to slip into bad habits and lose a measure of respect for himself.

"I think it started when I first joined the team," he said. "I was trying to fit in. There's the pressure of being with a new club. You try to fit in, so you do things you wouldn't normally do and say things I wouldn't normally say."

This is not drug/alcohol rehab story, either. Martinez says he has never used drugs and never will, but he did go out with the guys and get drunk on enough occasions to warrant some introspection.

"I went through some problems personally and I kind of backed away from my faith," he said. "It wasn't like guys who get converted. I already knew what was in the Bible. I knew what was right and wrong. Now I know what I have to do. I had a winter to regroup, to get away and re-establish my faith."

Now, he must get back to more earthly pursuits, like trying to win the right-field job. He arrived at Twin Lakes Park as the clear leader in the competition for playing time at that position, even though there are at least two other candidates with a chance to play there, too.

Right-handed prospect Luis Mercedes was protected by the Orioles during the November expansion draft, which might indicate that he was held in higher esteem than Martinez. The club also paid $50,000 to acquire power-hitting Sherman Obando in the Rule V draft, so he also figures to get a very long look.

Still, Oates insists Martinez is the most likely to emerge with a full-time job, if he decides not to go with a right-left platoon at that position.

"I think if you look at the numbers, Chito has to be the leading candidate to play right field," Oates said. "I'm not saying that it will end up that way, but he's the leading candidate."

Martinez just has to hope he does not start another season the way he started the last one, when he went 0-for-14 in April and had three RBI before his first hit. This time, however, he will not have the best contact hitter on the team looking over his shoulder.

"I'd say [his situation] has got to be a whole lot better," Oates said. "He was going against Orsulak last year, a guy who also hits left-handed and is a career .280 hitter who led the league in assists the year before."

Everything seems to be falling in place. Martinez had hoped to be taken in the expansion draft. Now he's glad he wasn't. He had worried that the Orioles would acquire a veteran run-producer to play right field. They acquired Harold Baines, but he doesn't figure to be out there much. Martinez just has to play up to his capability to get a major share of the right-field role.

"I don't make those decisions, so all I can do is go out and play," he said. "I'm not going to go out and try to do more or try to play harder. When you do that, you tend to do worse. . . . I'm a Christian. I believe that God has everything in control. If you rely solidly on God, he will provide what you need."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.