When J.D. Martinez was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks, he wasn't just changing teams or moving to a new city, he was moving from a team that had fallen short of high expectations to a contender that needed some extra pop at the plate. Little did anyone expect Martinez to deliver 29 home runs in just 62 games down the stretch, producing a career-best 45 combined between the two teams in an injury-shortened season.
That's great news for the future free agent's chances of landing a big contract on the market this winter, but first he faces the challenge of helping push the D-backs past the Rockies in the National League wild-card game. He spoke with Marly Rivera about what the postseason means to him, the differences between playing in Detroit and Phoenix, bridging the cultural divide in the clubhouse and growing up Cuban-American.
How do you deal with the uncertainty about your future as you're about to play in the postseason?
I think you just deal with it as 'you're about to make the playoffs.' That's the positive side of it; that's the exciting side. Not a lot of people get to go the playoffs and to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs with this team, that it's my belief it is a strong team and a team that believes in themselves, and can go deep in the playoffs. It's just an exciting time. Coming back or anything like that, that's more of the future. It's stuff I really can't control. I really don't know what's going to happen.
Is that easy to do?
When I was younger I felt like I would get caught up in more of the future. Now I've matured a little bit more in that aspect. I really don't get caught up in what I can't control and what's ahead of me. I just know that today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow. I can control what happens today, but I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow.
You worked very hard for what's coming to you as a free agent, as people say, you're about to get paid!
[Laughs.] I don't know. It's a blessing. It's a blessing from God. I give all the glory and thanks to Him. My road and my career to get to where I am has been a roller-coaster ride. But I wouldn't change it for anything. It's made me the person I am. I think it's built my character. It's made me stronger going through the failures that I had to go through and being able to work and not giving up. Kind of what my parents always told me. My dad always made it a point to tell me you never give up on yourself. I always took that to heart. That's always been kind of my motivation. It's just a blessing to be here.
Does your Cuban heritage play a part in that?
Yeah, definitely. My dad, when he came over from Cuba, he had three kids at the time. He was working over 100 hours a week at Domino's Pizza, flipping pizzas, just to put food on the plate every night for us. Just [seeing] the way he's achieved his dream. He started his own company. He owns a roofing company in South Florida and now he has like 35 guys working for him. To me, he did the American dream and he had that spirit of, 'I am not going to give up. This is what I have to do.' He had that hunger, that desire, to make something of himself and that's kind of what he always taught me.
So that's where your work ethic comes from?
Definitely, [from] my father and my mother. My mother was always there picking me up whenever I would come home and I was down, depressed about something, whatever it might have been, a bad game or whatever. She would be there and she would be like, 'Let's go, tomorrow is a new day.' She's there pumping me up, getting ready for tomorrow. She never let me get too down on myself. She always was there to pick me up.
How was your transition from Detroit to Phoenix?
The city of Detroit really embraced me. I felt like that was really home for me. It was tough to leave after being there for so long. And then coming over here and just the unknown, I feel like was the scariest part. You don't know if you're going to get along with the guys. You don't know the city, you just don't know. It's like someone telling you, 'Hey, you got to pick up your stuff and go move across the country and start a new life there.' You're just like thrown back by it. But coming here, the guys have been awesome. Guys have really embraced me.
When I first came, I really wasn't doing that well. I was struggling. I felt like I was trying to be someone that I wasn't; trying to do a lot more. And the guys were like nothing, they were like, 'Dude let's go,' every day picking me up, picking the whole team up. I felt a part of the team very quickly here.
Is it fair to say that you've had more success in Arizona than most expected you to have?
Yes, definitely. I felt like there was going to be more of a transition period. But I think the blessing that I got, and I was very fortunate with that first month, [it's that] I got to face a lot of the teams that we were facing [the] next month. So I felt like, 'OK, well now I don't have to face new teams every time.' I felt like that first month we kept facing a new team every single day, and I never faced these guys, I never faced that guy, I never faced these guys. Now I felt like in September, I had more at-bats under my belt against these pitchers and I have more of an understanding of how they work, how they get guys out, what makes them effective.
You're very proud of your Cuban heritage. Is it different being in Arizona where there is a big Mexican American influence, different from Detroit?
I think so, yeah. I think there's definitely more Hispanics here than there was in Detroit. But the Hispanic people here have been great. I did an appearance with T-Mobile a couple of weeks ago and it was just all Hispanic people. It was really cool. Like you never thought you'd get that kind of showing from the Hispanic population. So it's been fun. In Detroit wasn't as much. I mean, there were some Hispanic people in Detroit, but definitely not to the caliber here.
Is it fun to have the opportunity to connect that part of the fan base?
Yeah. It's cool when people come up to you and try talking to you in Spanish. They're just talking about your achievements and what they do and how excited they're about to go watch the game. It kind of feels like a little bit like home [in Miami].
How much of a Cuban influence did you have in your household growing up, and do you regret not having learned to speak Spanish a bit better? Would you do differently with your own children in the future?
My Spanish isn't good enough. It's good enough to get me by, but I feel to teach a kid it's going to be a little different. I think I would rely more on you're going to abuela's [grandmother's] house; drop them off at my mom's house or dad's house and let them learn it there. But I don't have kids and I am not married, so I will have some time for that.
What was your own upbringing like?
I have five sisters, but I lived with two and at a time (with) three of them, so there were a lot of girls around the house. So it was a little bit different. Good luck getting in the bathroom for anything, because someone was doing their makeup, something was going on. You're like, 'I got to go to the bathroom! Can you get out please?' You'd get dragged out the rooms. It was just a mess. They used to dress me up. I have pictures where they threatened to reveal them, 'I am going to blackmail you with these pictures.' I just laugh about it because the stuff they did to me, I look back and I am like, 'Dude, you guys were evil. What you guys do to me!' They love it.
Did you grow up eating Cuban food, or did you rebel and wanted just burgers and pizza like all kids do?
All the time. We had pizza and burgers, but Christmas Eve, it was Nochebuena. We're doing the 'caja china' [pig-roasting box] in the house. Everyone is over. My dad is burning the pig. He's sitting there with all my uncles and they're all just sitting over the pig, cooking that thing and I'm like dudes you're not paying attention, 'Ah, it's fine, it's fine'. We get the pig and it's all burnt. Then my sisters are all yelling at my dad. The wives are all yelling at the uncles; it's a big show. It's fun. I feel like that's what Christmas Eve is all about. When I think of Christmas Eve and even Thanksgiving too, it's the same thing. It's just a big family gathering and everyone is just having fun and being around company. The guys are doing stuff like burning the pig and starting fights with their wives. It's just funny. I don't even know. It's just the Spanish way. I don't even know how to say it, how to explain it.
When you are in the clubhouse do you feel you've become a bridge between American and Latino players, being a U.S.-born player but having grown up with Hispanic heritage?
Yeah, I do. I think that's a blessing that I got, being able to have both sides. That I can sit there and talk to [Ketel] Marte, talk to [David] Peralta and then go hang out with A.J. [Pollock] and [Jake] Lamb and Goldy [Paul Goldschmidt], and kind of just bounce back and forth. I feel like I don't have to limit myself to one side. I can just mix with everybody.
How important will your performance be for the Diamondbacks to make a deep run, and make it to the World Series?
I don't know. I feel I am just as important as everybody else on this team. I wouldn't put any more emphasis on me as I would put on Archie Bradley out of the bullpen. I think in order to win a World Series, and to get to a World Series, everybody has to show up. It's hard to rely on a couple of people to carry you, because in the World Series you got a target on your back. Teams have seven games on how to focus to beat that player and how are we not going to let this guy beat us. So then when that happens, other players have to step up to so their teams can be successful. I think that this whole World Series, and the way to get there, is going to be a fight. Everyone is going to have to play their game and contribute the way they know how to contribute for us to make it there.
Is it better to face the 'devil that you know,' since the Rockies are a divisional rival you know so well?
I guess you can say that, but the Rockies are a good team and any team we face is going to be a battle. There is no easy way to put it.
You were a part of a very talented team in Detroit that failed to win a World Series ring. What do you think was missing there that maybe the D-backs do have?
That's a tough one. It's just two different teams completely. Two different teams, and both could be very successful. Unfortunately in Detroit we didn't have the success that we wanted, and it sucked, because we had such a good team, a very talented team. But that shows you that this game, it doesn't matter what you have. It's kind of just who really believes and who really wants it. This team here is a very energetic team. So much energy that I look around, 'Dude, how do you have so much energy? I am like dead right now!' And it's motivating. It picks you up. So I don't know. It's just two different teams. It's hard to compare.
Did you make any adjustments to your swing? You seem to be a different player than you were in Detroit, though you did have to deal with injuries
I don't know. I didn't really make any adjustments I would say. I think it's just adjusting to the league mostly. In Detroit, in the beginning when I first got back, I was still dealing with my foot, I was dealing with just the achiness and the soreness of all that. I think I was able to do well in Detroit my time there this year. It's not like I did bad. But I think here the injury is behind me now. Ever since I've been here I haven't thought about it once type of deal.
Though you were not here at the beginning of the season, what do you think Torey Lovullo has brought to this team?
I don't know what it was like before, so it's really hard for me to comment on that, but since I've been here what I noticed is he's got a very good understanding of the clubhouse, a very good feel [for it]. He knows player control; kind of how to treat different players. He's been very positive since I've been here. Really kind of doesn't panic. Kind of more just like, 'Let's go, whatever, we lost this amount of games, doesn't matter, we're going to get back. We're going to do this.' He has a good feel for the clubhouse.