V-Mart enjoying playing role of All-Star dad
Injured Tigers slugger sharing experience with his children at Target Field
MINNEAPOLIS -- Victor Martinez needed a career type of season at age 35 to get here to the All-Star Game as a designated hitter. It took a midseason back injury to render him a spectator for the week.
Martinez can't play, but the Tigers slugger made the trip anyway. Instead, he's going to enjoy this All-Star Game as a dad.
"This is a nice and good time to get to spend as a family, with your kids," said Martinez, with his two kids at his side. "For me, it's all about that.
"I feel like another fan. I'll just take my camera and take pictures with my kids and with other players. I just want them to see this later and appreciate the game."
Fortunately for Martinez, he might have the most popular kid in the Majors.
"I don't know if I'm more happy for Victor or for little Victor," Miguel Cabrera said with a big laugh, looking over at the two from the next table over. "I think he's ready to go to the ballpark and jump and run everywhere."
Little Victor is nine-year-old Victor Jose Martinez, the oldest of Martinez's three children. And the younger Martinez is around the ballpark enough that he's pretty well known around the league.
He's a switch-hitting infielder who can hit line drives into the outfield off his dad in batting practice, much to onlookers' amazement. The younger Martinez's hitting sessions are impressive enough to get teammates and opponents alike to stop and watch. Every so often, the proud papa will pull out his tablet and show footage of his young son in action in his youth league games from back home in Florida.
If Martinez hadn't made the American League All-Star team, they'd be back in Florida, watching on television. As long as big Victor made the team, however, he wanted to take advantage of this, fulfilling a wish his son had last year.
"Believe it or not, man," Martinez said last week, "last year watching the Home Run Derby, [Victor Jose] told me these words: 'Daddy, you better make it next year, because I don't want to see my butt on the couch watching the Home Run Derby on TV again.' I'm like, 'Really? It's that easy, kid?'"
Big Victor Martinez made it look almost that easy. He entered the break ranked second in the AL with a .991 OPS, and firmly in the top five with a .328 batting average, .391 on-base percentage, .599 slugging percentage and 21 home runs.
It took the back injury to finally slow his pace, sidelining Martinez for all but one game over the past two weeks. He finally took swings again on Sunday, he said, and is 95 percent certain that he'll be ready to go when the Tigers open the second half on Friday against Cleveland.
"I'm almost right there," Martinez said. "I mean, as much as I love the game and as much as I love this team, this stage right here, we still have a long way to go. I have to get right. I have to get back into the lineup and keep helping the team."
Little Victor and Cabrera teamed up to try to talk him into the Gillette Home Run Derby, but the lingering injury ruled that out.
"He understands," Martinez said. "He knows that daddy has to get right. I just couldn't do it."
If Martinez couldn't be an All-Star player, he could still be an All-Star dad.
Little Victor is a precocious personality who often goes up to opposing players and tries to make new friends. That makes the two days of All-Star festivities a doubleheader field day for him, and a reminder for everyone else what this event means.
"Little Victor has so much fun at these," Max Scherzer said. "He loves meeting every other player just as much. He loves going out to the visiting BP and hanging out with everybody else.
"Little Vic soaks it all in. He's great to have in the clubhouse. Hopefully, he's around the whole time, because he's great to have in the clubhouse."
Little Victor was five years old the last time his father was an All-Star, back in 2010 with the Red Sox. He remembers it, but vaguely. This one is a little different.
"I'm a lot smarter," Victor Jose said, "and I get to go on the field and be with my dad."
When he does, there's one player in particular he's hoping to get a chance to meet.
"[Dodgers outfielder Yasiel] Puig," Victor Jose said. "I'm really looking forward to meeting him."