'Different'-feeling Edgar returns to tutor Mariners

Updated: February 24, 2007, 6:05 PM ET
Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners signed Edgar Martinez for the baseball equivalent of a bat rack two decades ago. And he is still paying the team huge dividends.

Martinex, who signed with Seattle for $5,000 in 1982 out of Puerto Rico and then became a seven-time All-Star and two-time batting champion, arrived in Mariners camp Saturday. He felt lost for a moment, then put on his old navy blue jersey with No. 11 on the back and began tutoring newcomer Jose Vidro on the craft of being a designated hitter.

"It does feel different. I haven't been here for a few years," Martinez said inside the same cinderblock clubhouse where he spent spring trainings from 1993 until retiring in 2004.

"I didn't know where I was going to go. Or if I had a uniform," said the laughing 44-year-old, who now runs a branding company in Redmond, Wash.

Oh, there's absolutely a place in this Mariners camp for Seattle's all-time leader in games played (2,055), at-bats (7,213), hits (2,247), runs (1,219), RBIs (1,261), doubles (514), walks (1,283) and total bases (3,718). Even if he's only staying through Monday.

The Mariners can use all the advice they can get. They've finished last in the AL West for three consecutive seasons.

"Yes, it does bother me," Martinez said of seeing the franchise now compared to when he led it to its first division championship in 1995.

He had the division series-winning hit -- known in Seattle as "The Double" -- that brought the city its first AL championship series that season. He also was a key reason the Mariners won an AL-record 116 games in 2001 -- which seems like generations ago now.

"I knew it was part of the game for a team to go that way," he said of the current M's. "But I am also a fan of the team. ... I get affected like I'm playing again."

Seattle figures the best advice for its new DH will come from one the game's best ever.

"He's the ultimate been-there, done-that guy," said Mariners manager Mike Hargrove, a major league player from 1974-85. "And he's done it better than 99 percent of the hitters in this game."

Martinez was so good at it, the American League names its annual award for its best designated hitter the Edgar Martinez Award.

Five Mariners with at least 10 at-bats at the position last season combined to finish last among AL DHs in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs, and next-to-last in average, doubles and RBIs.

Martinez's best advice for Vidro: Beware of the lights.

His secret to staying sharp between at bats without playing in the field for most of his 17 seasons was to take a few practice swings inside, behind the dugout, before the next time up. But he did it early enough so that he could come back to the dugout in time to stand for a while at the top step, to readjust his eyes to the stadium's night lighting.

He said it took him a couple of years as a DH to learn that lesson.

Hargrove said Martinez's words will resonate more with Vidro and other Mariners hitters -- who will meet with Martinez Sunday -- than those from their manager or coaches.

"I played 12 years in the big leagues. And I was a pretty good hitter," Hargrove said. "But none of the guys saw me play. All of them saw Edgar play."

These days, Martinez is playing is with his three children: Alex, age 12, Tessa, 5, and Jacqueline, 2. When he's not with them and wife Holli, he is in his office at Branded Solutions by Edgar Martinez, a byproduct of his family's embroidery business.

Not that he needs the income. That $5,000 original signing bonus in 1982 peaked to a $7.1 million contract by 2002. In his final season, 2004, he earned $3 million.

He is so beloved that the main thoroughfare linking Safeco Field to Seattle's two main freeways is Edgar Martinez Way.

He said he is toying with the idea of getting a business degree from the University of Washington, to enhance his work as a CEO. He likes having to travel less than he did in baseball, back to his native Puerto Rico perhaps twice a year. That alone is why he is not interested in becoming a major league coach.

But he was one Saturday -- albeit one so new the manufacturer's stickers were still stuck under the bill of his cap.

As Martinez played catch with bench coach John McLaren before a fan-fest workout inside the stadium at Peoria Sports Complex, fans excitedly yelled "Edgar!" Martinez then took a coach-like stance during batting practice: his chin resting on arms crossed over his chest, arms resting on the back bar of the batting cage.

He chatted with Vidro before and after his new prot Deg De's swings.

"I'm definitely going to ask him what's the best way to prepare for being a DH," said Vidro, a career .301 hitter arriving from Washington.

"That's definitely going to be a great experience."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index