For Victor Martinez, power is in the preparation

Tom Gage
The Detroit News

Detroit — Rajai Davis, a thoughtful player, said it best — which isn't unusual.

"Every player tries to be prepared," the Tigers' outfielder said at TigerFest on Saturday. "Most players are.

"But there is being prepared — and then there is Victor (Martinez). He takes everything a little further."

Yes, then there is Victor ...

What an honor to have that said about you. What a truth, however.

As long as Martinez is on the Tigers, which he now knows will probably be for the rest of his career after signing a four-year, $68 million contract, there will be no question whether there is enough leadership on the Tigers.

Or who the true leader is.

"When they signed him so quickly after the season," said Davis, "I cheered. Oh, man, it's exactly what we needed because he's such a good example."

Martinez hit .335 for the Tigers last year, second highest in the American League. He is a team leader from that perspective. In short, while leading the AL in on-base percentage and OPS, and finishing second in the Most Valuable Player voting, he had an incredible season.

"You know what? I don't look at it that I'm coming back to the Tigers — because I never left," he said. "It's an honor to know this is where I'm going to end my career."

A sense of feeling at home in the city where he plays is immensely important for Martinez. That began in Cleveland, where he broke into the majors in 2002 and where he played until he was traded to Boston in 2009.

Martinez shed tears the day he was dealt — that was how strong a bond he felt with the Indians and the Cleveland area.

He didn't play long enough for the Red Sox (less than two years) to develop that same feeling with Boston. But he now feels it in Detroit.

Becoming a free agent after last season, his preference was immediately clear. He so intently wanted to stay with the Tigers that he made the first move toward doing so before last season ended.

"He asked me one day if I had a moment," Tigers' president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He said he didn't want to go anywhere else."

The Tigers, of course, welcomed him back with arms open wider than even their checkbook.

Perhaps Martinez would have been offered more elsewhere, but he wasn't interested in elsewhere.

"This is like my home. It's a pretty special thing."

With Martinez, his classic concentration will return. Watch him in the batter's box, as you probably have done already.

Do you really want to be a pitcher facing such intensity?

"He keeps his concentration for an entire at-bat," said Davis. "Even after a bad call, he's able to zero back in."

Manager Brad Ausmus often has said that he's never seen Victor's equal for being able to concentrate on every pitch.

"He doesn't come close to giving any at-bats away," Ausmus said. "But he's that way about everything he does. The one time he thought he didn't run as hard to first base as he should have last year, he came back to the dugout and apologized."

It begins with preparation, though. Martinez prepares himself for every at-bat not just by returning to the batting cage between at-bats, but by approaching each plate appearance as if it will decide the game — because it could.

"Victor is a machine," said Nick Castellanos. "He has his routine down to the second. He's so good at preparing for each and every pitch, each and every at-bat. He's really a special player."

Plus there's this about him as a valued teammate: Martinez is always positive. In fact, he could not be more positive about the upcoming season.

"I'm not thinking we COULD be stronger than last year," he said. "I'm thinking we are stronger than last year."

It's a feeling all Tigers need to have from Day 1, of course, but one that the quick decision by management to bring Martinez back made it easier for those returning to have.

"It definitely re-assured everybody," said Castellanos, "that we're still about winning now."

In that case, Victor and the Tigers are a perfect match.

The happiness of a great hitter who is glad to be back — exceeded only by the joy of those welcoming his return.