While researching a recent profile of Nationals manager Dave Martinez, which ran in Sunday’s print edition, I looked into a story that MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds told when he interviewed Martinez at this year’s winter meetings. That interview was one of Martinez’s first since being named manager, which meant members of the Nationals’ public relation staff were sitting nearby and watching intently as he fielded the usual array of questions.
Then Reynolds made an unexpected pivot to a story about the time he and Martinez were in a casino that was robbed at gunpoint. He didn’t provide much detail, other than the unnecessary clarification that he and Martinez survived the incident unscathed. Martinez remembered that he hid behind a machine. They laughed a little, and then the discussion turned back to baseball. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t want more baseball; I wanted more casino robbery. So I asked for more details, and Reynolds shared the story.
Reynolds’s best friend coming up through the minors was Darnell Coles, a 14-year veteran of seven different major league teams. The Mariners drafted both of them in 1980. They both broke into the majors with Seattle in 1983. Coles was the best man in Reynolds’s wedding. According to Reynolds, Coles lived in the same Clearwater, Fla. neighborhood as Martinez. They become good friends. Whenever Reynolds would visit Coles, the two of them would head over to Martinez’s. Reynolds and Martinez became friends, too.
Eventually, Reynolds said, Martinez and Coles planned a cruise to the Bahamas, and invited him to come along. One night the boat docked. Reynolds didn’t remember where.
“It’s a night out. We’ve got suits on. They’ve got their wives, I’ve got a date,” Reynolds said. “So we go walking in the casino and it’s like a scene out of a movie. We’re thinking we’re cool. We’ve got our swag on. And all of a sudden we’re playing at this table, that table, and you hear this ‘boom, boom, boom, boom.’ Guns going off.”
Reynolds remembers the intruders telling everyone to put their hands up. Reynolds, Martinez, Coles and the rest dropped to the floor. People were turning over tables as shields against bullets.
“Darnell is so cheap — and we wore him out over this — he’s reaching out to the top of the table to get the money off of the table,” Reynolds said. “It’s like ‘you’re going to get killed, what are you doing?!’”
Coles didn’t get killed. None of them did, though Reynolds did say a few suits got ruined from crawling across the ground.
“That’s one of those stories that kind of bonds you forever,” Reynolds said. “Every time I see Dave, I’m like, ‘You remember the casino?’ ”
Including, apparently, when they meet on national television. Besides talking about their shared near-death experiences, Reynolds also offered his opinion on what the Nationals are getting in Martinez, whom he called “the kind of person people gravitate to.” Because Martinez was not a starter his whole career, and in fact was relied upon off the bench for a good portion of it, Reynolds predicted he will do a good job carrying on the brief tradition of communication Dusty Baker left.
“He understands letting a guy know: ‘Hey, I’m going to pinch hit you in the third inning here, or three innings from now,’ so you can get your mind ready. Or, ‘if this move happens, we’re going to do that.’ Those are very important to players, and particularly with the Nationals, following Dusty Baker,” Reynolds said. “One of the great strengths of Dusty was to go to a guy on a Tuesday and say: ‘You know what? You’re going to start on Saturday, so get your rest Friday night.’ When you come off having a manager like that, the next guy, that’s the bar that’s set. I think, in that sense, Dave will be able to fill that void.”