By Joe Haggerty
LAKELAND, Fla.The big Red Sox story at Joker Marchant Stadium in Tuesday's game against the Detroit Tigers is obviously Daisuke Matsuzaka, but there's also the first reunion between Victor Martinez with his old baseball team.V-Mart is in the Detroit lineup, batting fifth and serving as the designated hittera role hes expected to occupy much more with the Tigers this seasonand said he was looking forward to playing against his old squad. Sox regulars Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie and Darnell McDonald made the trip to Lakeland along with newcomer Carl Crawford, and Martinez has happy to spot familiar faces while serving out liners during batting practice.It was always nice to getting together with some old friends. I was really looking forward to it, said Martinez. Boston was a great experience for me and for my family. It was a great experience. My family and my son really miss the Red Sox. They treated my family first class, and as a player thats one of the things that youre really looking for.It makes you want to go out there, play your best and give your all. It was great for me, and it was one of the best experiences of my career. I cant say anything but great things about the Red Sox organization. There are no hard feelings at all.Martinezs son, Victor Jose, was a fixture around Fenway Park over the last two seasons and it was pretty clear listening to the backstopdesignated hitterfirst baseman that Boston and the Sox organization had a profound impact on both father and son.Sox manager Terry Francona was often spotted playing with the rambunctious duo of Victor Jose Martinez and DAngelo Ortiz in the Sox clubhouse over the last couple of summers, and he misses the energy and levity brought by both youngsters.Were trying to make a move today. Theo is trying to acquire Victor Jose. Theyre asking for Crawford, and were holding out for a little less, said the smirking Sox skipper.Martinez recounts a conversation with his 6-year-old son when they both realized the Sox were coming soon, and Big Papi wouldnt be making the trip: A week ago, he said to me, The Red Sox are coming. Im gonna see DAngelo. And I said Papi, I dont know if youre going to see him. I dont think David Ortiz is going to make the trip. And he was like Aw man!It was tough for him. Hes a kid, but you try to make him understand. Its a hard part of the game. Detroit is a great organization with a lot of good guys, and hes getting used to it over here.Martinez maintains he holds no ill will toward the Sox after they went in a different direction for their offense and catching and never really gave the former backstop the kind of contract offer denoting a serious desire to keep him in Boston. Questions about Martinezs overall defensive abilities and his skill throwing out base stealers certainly clouded his long term future in Boston as a full-time catcher. The Sox werent willing to shell out the bucks for a versatile switch-hitter capable of swinging between catcher, first base and designated hitter while providing respectable middle-of-the-order offense when they still had a few first basedesignated hitter types under contract.Martinez' first move, from Cleveland to Boston (when theRed Sox acquired him at the trade deadline in 2009), was gut-wrenching-- to that point, he'd spent his entire career with the Indians -- butit was easier this time around. For one thing, he'd been through itbefore. For another, Martinez got what he was looking for from theTigers: Four years, 52 million.He said hes interested to see if lightening the catching duty can help preserve his career and bulk up his offensive numbers further.They told me right out of the gate that I was going to catch two or three days a week and the rest of the time Id be DH-ing, said Martinez. Im good with it. Its going to be fun. Ill do my best and see what happens.Martinez ended his Sox career with a .313 batting average and .865 OPS with 28 home runs and 120 RBI in 183 big league games.
All of the good stuff we heard in Cleveland we found out was true, said Francona. Hes a gentleman, first of all. He instantly became a good teammate and kind of a leader. Thats a hard thing to do when you come in the middle of a season.He found a way because of his personality and leadership to find a way to have guys following him. Guys took to him after the first day and its a compliment to him. Guys come and go. Thats the business part of it, but it doesnt mean that youre not crazy about him.Trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Crawford certainly softened the blow on the business end of it for the Sox, and perhaps DAngelo and Victor Jose can rekindle their friendship 20 years from now when theyre both big league superstars. For now, though, V-Mart and the Sox are both getting on with their lives.