Dave Martinez normally holds his pregame media sessions in his office when the Nationals are on the road, but this one was different. Much like when Dusty Baker returned to Wrigley Field during his Nationals tenure, Martinez drew the interest of Chicago-based writers, too. So the Nationals decided to move his pregame session to a separate news conference room, where they set up a tiny navy blue Nationals backdrop for the cameras — one that didn’t stand much of a chance against the much bigger, royal blue Cubs background still looming behind it.
His Cubs history looms over Martinez in much the same way. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how often he ditches his glasses for public appearances so no one will think he’s copying Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon’s trademark look, everyone associates the two. Martinez will be known as a Maddon protege until he isn’t, and that is not a misrepresentation of his ways. But while Martinez has not made it an overt goal to step out of Maddon’s shadow, he always seems to shuffle out of it whenever possible.
“I learned a lot from Joe, I really did. But moving forward, I understand the game as a player and a coach,” Martinez said. “I had unbelievable mentors. Bobby Cox. [Don Zimmer]. Jim Fregosi. All those guys, they taught me a lot about this game, how to treat people and what to expect. I appreciate that very much.”
The Maddon question came early in his news conference, as he probably knew it would, but the whole thing didn’t begin there.
His day began with quick hellos to familiar faces. He didn’t host old friends in his office before the game. He didn’t invite longtime colleagues to stop by the clubhouse. Instead, Martinez took his plate of breakfast into the training room, where only the players and staff are allowed. He sat talking to the various Nationals who shuffled in and out, joking and listening as the conversation flowed.
Eventually, Martinez was late to the news conference because so many people stopped him to say hello on his way to the room, which sits right outside the Cubs’ clubhouse. He got all the usual Nationals business out of the way first. The swelling in Bryce Harper’s leg has gone down, so after missing Thursday’s game, he is in the lineup Friday. Stephen Strasburg will throw a 60-pitch bullpen here tomorrow, and if all goes well he will throw a simulated game in St. Louis. Erick Fedde threw another bullpen today.
Then came the questions from the Cubs writers, some of whom have known him since his playing days, others of whom got to know him during his much talked-about tenure as Maddon’s bench coach. One of them asked if Martinez, on his own now, found his new job a lonely one.
“I never felt alone,” Martinez said. “I pull for these guys every day.”
As careful as he was with questions about Maddon, familiarity and a comfortable backdrop seemed to open Martinez up somewhat. Asked about his relationship with Bryce Harper, one of the more publicly positive ones he has built in his tenure, Martinez shared a story he had not told before, about the time Harper was sitting on the couch in his office when Martinez walked in after a shower.
“What are you doing?” Martinez said he asked him.
“Oh, I just want to sit and talk,” Harper said.
“What do you want to talk about?” Martinez asked him.
“I don’t know. What do you want to talk about?” Harper replied.
Martinez said Harper eventually betrayed the reason for his unexpected visit. The then-struggling superstar wanted to reassure Martinez that he would be fine.
“I told him, ‘Hey, there’s no doubt in my mind. I believe in you, your teammates believe in you, go out and play,'” Martinez said. Harper is hitting .370 with a 1.178 OPS in his last 13 games.
Eventually, the questions wound back to Maddon, and specifically to how much Martinez had spoken to him since the season began. Martinez said they texted back and forth a bit, then immediately stopped speaking, tears in his eyes. He all but cried, emotional enough to need a few moments to compose himself.
“We lost a really good friend,” said Martinez, and everyone in the room knew he meant former Cubs mental coach Ken Ravizza, who died in July. “We talked about that.”
Martinez wears Ravizza’s initials in white marker on his hat for every game. Ravizza was Martinez’s mental coach, too, offering advice about how to handle others as well as himself. Martinez plans to wear those initials on his hat all season. The Cubs will always be a part of him, in part because they shaped him into what he is now.
When he stepped out of the news conference room, Martinez waited to shake hands with all the writers, then turned to see Maddon waiting with a hug. He didn’t linger with Maddon long before heading out to the field. His team was taking batting practice. He didn’t have much time to look back.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (58-56)
Adam Eaton RF
Trea Turner SS
Anthony Rendon 3B
Bryce Harper CF
Juan Soto LF
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Daniel Murphy 2B
Spencer Kieboom C
Jeremy Hellickson P
CHICAGO CUBS (66-48)
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Javy Baez 2B
Ben Zobrist RF
Jason Heyward CF
Daniel Bote 3B
Kyle Schwarber LF
Willson Contreras C
Kyle Hendricks P
Addison Russell SS