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News » Playing through the pain With tragedy as a backdrop, Martinez will stay in minor-league system in bid to make Cards. CARDINALS I

Playing through the pain With tragedy as a backdrop, Martinez will stay in minor-league system in bid to make Cards. CARDINALS I

Playing through the pain With tragedy as a backdrop, Martinez will stay in minor-league system in bid to make Cards. CARDINALS I
Infielder Jose Martinez is expected to rejoin the Springfield Cardinals in the next week or two. For now, he remains at extended spring training in Jupiter, Fla., rehabilitating from shoulder tendinitis, a minor inconvenience compared with what he has lived these last three months.

Martinez, 23, has not seen his wife and 6-month-old daughter for more than a month. They remain in their native Venezuela unable to obtain visas for travel to the United States.

Because of what occurred in the northern town of Guacara on Feb. 14, Martinez will never again see his father, his grandmother and two uncles.

"It is," says Martinez's St. Louis-based agent, Kenny Powell, "an unconscionable situation. You call it a tragedy and it doesn't say enough."

With Martinez in Florida testing a left foot fractured last season, his family gathered in his native country to celebrate his grandmother's 67th birthday. A lone gunman entered the home but was quickly subdued by Martinez's family. Unaware of an accomplice, the party was then ambushed by a second gunman who indiscriminately sprayed the gathering with bullets.

Martinez's uncles were killed as was his grandmother, who was shot shielding her sons. Martinez's father also was struck, surviving long enough for Jose to see before the elder Martinez also died.

The Cardinals arranged for immediate transportation for Martinez, who remained in Venezuela for all of spring training. The Cardinals anticipated he would open the season at Triple-A Memphis. Vice-president of scouting and player development Jeff Luhnow hoped Martinez would receive at least a passing glance during the parent club's auditions for an heir to Adam Kennedy. Instead, Martinez likely would head to Springfield for a third time to resume a career while trying to piece together his life a continent removed from his wife and child.

"It's a testament to the promise he made to himself and to his father," Powell says. "Jose had to decide what ultimately is best for his family, and he decided to continue pursuing his family's shared dream of him becoming a major-league player."

Since the slaying occurred near a polling station on the eve of national elections, the Cardinals enlisted Major League Baseball's security division to help investigate whether the incident may have been politically motivated. The assailants have not been caught but MLB has notified the club it found no evidence of anything other than a robbery gone awry.

The matter was not reported outside Venezuela, and Luhnow initially explained Martinez's absence from spring training as a visa issue.

"Right now Jose's focus is his wife and his daughter," Powell says. "What is best for all of them is for him to make it to the big leagues, to fulfill his dreams and to be able to provide for them."

Powell remembers Martinez's father, Jose, as a "stand-up man" who advised his son to return equipment sent him by a rival agent. Luhnow simply recalls him as "a great, great man."

Martinez is restricted to serving as a designated hitter until his shoulder heals, but the club expects his progress to accelerate this week.

"From an organizational standpoint we understood we had to be patient," general manager John Mozeliak says. "We recognized he was dealing with a large tragedy. We're allowing him to work at his pace and to return at his pace."

Cardinals Colby Rasmus and Kyle McClellan were Martinez's teammates at Springfield in 2007 and first baseman Albert Pujols came to know him in early-morning sessions at the team's batting facility during camp. Martinez carries a reputation as an aggressive hitter likened by some to Placido Polanco. Baseball America rated Martinez as the organization's No. 17 prospect before the 2008 season, immediately behind P.J. Walters and ahead of McClellan, Jason Motte and Tyler Greene, among others. One Internet site rated Martinez as high as No. 7.

Martinez appeared to regress last season, as his average at Springfield dropped from .300 in 2007 to .253 with dramatically lower slugging and on-base averages. The club attributes the decline to a stress fracture that Martinez tried to play through and had hoped to start him at Triple-A Memphis before February's tragedy.

Mozeliak, Luhnow and Cardinals director of international operations Moises Rodriguez have kept in touch with Martinez and his agent during the player's two months in Venezuela and since his return. "They've been incredible in doing everything they can to help Jose through a tough time," Powell says. "They've tried to hold a spot for him as best they can. It's a business. The window of opportunity is not going to stay open forever."

Says Luhnow: "He's a pretty special bat. We know that. Jose has as good a hands and feet as we've ever seen. He's not that far away. He's a few breaks away."

Powell says, "I really want him to make it. It's not just a financial thing for me. I don't want to make any money off Jose Martinez. I just want to see him in Busch Stadium."

Martinez was among the first Latin players that Luhnow signed after chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. assigned him responsibility for international scouting and player development. The $5,000 signing bonus Martinez received is minuscule compared to what the club now brandishes. But Luhnow has long believed Martinez could be the first to graduate from the team's international program to St. Louis.

Luhnow hopes the talent endures. Just as badly he and those familiar with Martinez hope to again find the outgoing, happy man they knew before February intervened.

"He had a smile on his face every single time I saw him, every time," Luhnow recalls. "I hope that joy of being in Baseball and being in the States continues. I hope that very much."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 17, 2009

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