V-Mart gets warm welcome from ex-mates

BOSTON -- Victor Martinez took a stroll into the Red Sox clubhouse Wednesday afternoon and was greeted with handshakes all around from his former teammates. Then, he laughed, “I lost my son for about 5 to 10 minutes.”

Indeed, 6-year-old Victor Jose Martinez, dressed in a kiddie-sized Tigers uniform with his father’s number on the back, was a superstar in the clubhouse. Dustin Pedroia guided him around, and he hung out in manager Terry Francona’s office before meeting up with little D’Angelo Ortiz for a game of catch out on the field.

Martinez returns to Fenway Park with all smiles and no regrets about his short tenure here.

“I don’t have any word to describe it,” he said, as he spoke to reporters from the visiting dugout. “By far it’s been the best time in my career. To come in here and play with this team, in this city, in front of these great fans, it’s definitely by far the best time I’ve had in my career.”

By the looks of it, perhaps the Sox wouldn’t mind a do-over on their decision to let Martinez go following the 2010 season. They decided to spend their available cash elsewhere, shedding Martinez and Adrian Beltre, signing free agent Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez. Martinez signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Tigers. The Sox made two offers: a three-year, $36 million deal and a four-year, $42 million deal.

Between the struggles of Jason Varitek (.183/.269/.233) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.217/.261/.313), catching has been the glaring weak spot in the batting order. Meanwhile, Martinez has been worth every cent so far in Detroit, putting up .317/.375/.525 numbers in 27 games this season, with an OPS of .900, 23 RBIs and four home runs. He’s also the reigning American League Player of the Week, going 11 for 19 last week with four doubles, two homes and 11 RBIs.

Often playing out of the middle of the order as a designated hitter, Martinez noted the challenging switch, and has been seeking out advice from Travis Hafner -- not to mention, his old friend David Ortiz, too.

“It’s a challenge. It’s not easy,” Martinez said. “It looks easy, you go out there and have four at-bats, five at-bats, but you have to do a lot of stuff to keep warm. That’s the hard part of being a DH.”

Said Francona, “Having the offense at that position is huge. When he was here, he was hitting third a lot of times. You got a guy catching that’s hitting third, doing what you’re doing offensively, that’s a bonus.”

Missed just as much, some suggested, is his leadership in the clubhouse. Francona and players alike noted how quickly he meshed into the clubhouse fabric, and what a veteran presence he crafted in spite of his short time here.

“All the things we heard when he was with Cleveland, they came to fruition in a hurry,” Francona said. “It’s one thing to come into a team and integrate yourself, but to become a leader that quickly is not easy to pull off, especially with a veteran team that’s trying to win. That’s the one thing he really pulled off. Guys followed him, and he had an immediate impact. That’s not so easy to do.”

Said Ortiz, “Oh man, it was great. You can’t have no better teammate than Vic. Just a great personality, incredible human being, great player, it’s like all the good things you can think of somebody.”

Asked by a Detroit reporter what the Tigers have gotten, Ortiz said, “They got a guy that you definitely can build an organization around him. He worked really hard and he’s into it. He brings everything he’s got, every day.”