Facing long odds beats long trip for Japan League vet Martinez

Orioles notebook

First baseman played with Jays in '93

wait for Rogers, Garabito goes on

February 22, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A typical spring training roster includes a healthy supply of long-shot candidates and players with absolutely no chance of being in the majors on Opening Day.

Domingo Martinez would settle for being in the United States.

Martinez hasn't played in this country since 1996, when he appeared in 29 games at Triple-A Rochester before the Orioles sold his contract to the Seibu Lions of the Japanese League. He hasn't ventured onto major-league soil since 1993 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

So what is Martinez doing here, beside looking older than his listed age of 34? Just feeling grateful for the opportunity, no matter how fleeting it may become.

"I think it'll be all right. I'll try to do the best I can," he said.

Standing at first base, he bears a slight resemblance to former prospect Calvin Pickering, who tested the elastic on any waistband. Appearing much heavier than his listed weight of 225, Martinez looks more like a nose guard than an infielder, which contradicts the scouting report given by pitcher Pat Hentgen.

"He's always carried a little weight, but you'd be surprised how well he moves. He's a slick fielder. He's got smooth hands and tons of power to right-center field," said Hentgen, who traveled through the minors with Martinez.

"He's a good player. Of course, this is going back 10 years."

Martinez batted .293 with 104 homers and 350 RBIs in 538 games in Japan, and could be headed there again. His contract most likely will be sold to another club overseas, though Syd Thrift, Orioles vice president for baseball operations, hasn't forgotten Martinez batted .362 with 38 RBIs in 29 games at Rochester.

"We signed him with provisions that he could be sold back to Japan. That's always a possibility, but we'll see how he looks," Thrift said.

Martinez played in only 15 games over two seasons with Toronto, but has a World Series ring that he keeps at home in the Dominican Republic. "It seems like a long time ago," he said.

Many years have passed. So have many miles.

"I enjoyed Japan," he said, "but I'm really happy to be back in the United States."

Still waiting on pair

Infielders Ed Rogers and Eddy Garabito still hadn't reported by the conclusion of yesterday's workout because of visa problems in the Dominican Republic.

"I think they're supposed to be here tomorrow," manager Mike Hargrove said.

Garabito has an outside chance at making the club as a utility player, with his stock increasing after he was named the Dominican Winter League's top rookie. Club officials were concerned he would be lost in the Rule 5 draft last winter, but teams passed on him.

Rogers' best hope is beginning the season at Double-A Bowie, where he struggled last year after moving up from Single-A Frederick. A shortstop who drew premature comparisons last spring to Alex Rodriguez, Rogers batted .199 in 53 games at Bowie, compared with .260 in 73 games with the Keys.

No change for Conine

Given the added responsibility of providing leadership to the Orioles in their first season without Cal Ripken, team MVP Jeff Conine isn't backing away from the challenge. He's also not inclined to do anything different.

"I'm not going to come in and try to change the way I act or go about my business," he said. "I think I'm a lot like Cal in that we try to lead by example. You work hard, show up on time, play the game the right way, and hopefully people will see that.

"We've got a bunch of young guys who are willing to learn."

Looking for applause

Rather than focus on home runs or postseason honors, third baseman Tony Batista has set a more modest goal.

Breaking into a grin as he revealed it, Batista said he's hoping to win over fans who were more inclined to jeer him last summer for replacing Ripken in the lineup.

"I think this year they'll probably clap their hands," he said. "I'll make them clap their hands."

Improving his .305 on-base percentage would be a good start.

Father and son reunion?

There's a chance Tim Raines Jr. once again will step on the same field as his father, though in a different uniform.

Now that Tim Raines Sr. has signed with the Florida Marlins, father and son could be reunited when the teams meet March 12 in Fort Lauderdale. The Orioles travel to Viera for two games later in the month before heading to Atlanta and Louisville for their final exhibitions, but Raines Jr. could already be reassigned to the minor-league camp in Sarasota, Fla.

Raines Sr. and Jr. became only the second father-son teammates in major-league history on Oct. 3 when they started in the outfield. They also played against each other twice, in an exhibition game between the Orioles and Montreal Expos and a Triple-A game between Rochester and Ottawa.

"There was a sigh of relief," Raines Jr. said. "It was like, `We did it.' "

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