Aug. 18, 2010
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The path to being a Lobo assistant definitely wasn't a straight line for David Martinez because the path to baseball wasn't always straight and narrow.
First, there was the lure of football. Martinez was pretty good at it and coming out of high school in Redlands, Calif., the speedy defensive back did contemplate a move in that direction.
Then there was the lure of golf. Oh, Martinez wasn't PGA good. Tiger had nothing to worry about. But Martinez was good enough to pass the playing test and seemed to be headed toward a career in a golf shop and a life on the driving range.
But football and golf both lost out to baseball.
"When baseball is in your blood, it never leaves you," said Martinez, who is taking over as the pitching coach in Ray Birmingham's surging UNM program. "You can force yourself away, but it never goes very far."
The choice coming out of high school - baseball -- probably was the best one. Martinez's speed wasn't blazing on the football field, but the stuff coming off his left arm and heading toward a plate was pretty good.
One problem, though - grades. "I wasn't the best student coming out of high school and I had to go the JC route," said Martinez, who came to UNM after three seasons with the UNLV Rebels. "I learned the hard way the importance of making good grades."
Martinez went to Riverside Community College and threw enough good stuff to attract the attention of UNLV. He went to Vegas for his final season of eligibility, but ran into some bad luck and a worse shoulder. He hurt the shoulder before the first game of the season and a few months later quit baseball - and school - after his third surgery on that socket.
"I probably handled it the wrong way, definitely not what we need to teach kids," said Martinez "I quit school."
That look away from baseball actually brought Martinez back to baseball. He worked at a golf course for almost five years and started knocking the ball around with a pro baseball scout. One thing led to another - mostly baseball talk -- and soon Martinez was scouting for the Baltimore Orioles.
It felt like a long overdue return home. It brought him back to the game full time.
"We started talking about the game and the juices started flowing again," said Martinez. "I wanted to get back into coaching and I knew I needed a degree to open up some doors."
The degree came from Cal State San Bernardino. From there, Martinez went to Purdue as a volunteer assistant, then to Riverside Community College as an assistant, then to UNLV where he ran into Birmingham a time or two on the Mountain West road.
"I've watched Dave for three seasons," said Coach Birmingham. "He is a meticulous, hard-working coach and very knowledgeable about pitching. He has turned a lot of average pitchers into good pitchers.
"He also is a great recruiter and can work California and that is an area we need worked. Dave makes us better."
Martinez also knows a little about the School of Hard Knocks. He had a few setbacks, some minor detours, but learned from his errors to become a better person and a college graduate. He knows the importance of a degree. He knows the direction in which to point kids.
"One message I can honestly give to the players is that the degree is important and it's never too late," he said. "It took me about ten years, but it's so worth it. The character of this program and how it pushes the right things is one reason I was so excited to become a Lobo. This program emphasizes making Lobos better people.
"Being in the conference for three years and seeing what Coach Birmingham has done here really excites me. This is a staff with great ambition and they always have Omaha (College World Series) on their mind. "
Martinez says he has been around enough diamonds to know the importance of mechanics and technique. But he also emphasizes another part of the body in making a pitcher effective on the mound.
"The mentality of pitching is so important," he said. "You have to go out there with great confidence and belief. You have to trust your pitches. I try to build relationships with my players, so I understand them and they understand me.
"Your players have to trust you and know that you are behind them and that you care about them as individuals just as much as you care about their success pitching."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.