By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Washington Nationals beat writers like Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post are sitting in chairs in a backyard patio setting, waiting for rookie manager Dave Martinez to show up.
This is the unstructured, simple scenario Martinez wants for his daily media briefings during Spring Training. Like sitting on a patio having a beer. On this particular day, I'm part of the group. I pull up a chair. I haven't seen Martinez since he departed the Expos in a trade following the 1991 season or maybe it was 2000 when he spent part of that season with the Blue Jays.
"Long time no see,'' Martinez said as he greeted me.
"Good to see you again, Dave,'' I replied.
Long after the established beat writers are finished with their official questions, Martinez doesn't just up and leave. He stays around to shoot the breeze with the writers and when those same writers finally depart, Martinez stays put to have a little chat with this guy, who covered him from 1988-91 before he was traded in the off-season to the Reds in the trade that brought John Wetteland to the Expos.
During the regular season at home and on the road, Martinez admits he won't be able to have a casual setting like chairs around a table for media chats because he will have to stand up in a room with the Nationals' banner in the background.
"I don't want it to be all business,'' Martinez explained of his idea to be laid back with the media around a table and chairs.
Too often major-league coaches want to be disciplinarians when they become managers. 1976 Expos manager Karl Kuehl was like that. So was 1991-92 Expos skipper Tom Runnells. Not Martinez.
"Dave wants us to work hard but he wants us to have fun, too,'' Nationals superstar Bryce Harper said of Martinez, who spent 10 seasons as a bench coach under Joe Maddon with the Rays and Cubs before landing his dream job: a three-year deal worth a reported $2.8-million.
"It's pretty awesome,'' Martinez said about getting the Nationals' job.
Martinez played under close to 10 managers during his playing career as an outfielder and one of them, Expos skipper Buck Rodgers, was one of his favourites. Martinez uses some of the personable Rodgers' techniques to run his own program with the Nationals.
"Buck was a great communicator,'' Martinez said. "He liked to use a lot of his players and give them playing time.''
As much as he can, Martinez will utilize his role players as much as possible like Rodgers, realizing that ''everyone wants to play every day.'' Martinez was one such part-time player with the Expos but received a fair amount of playing time under Rodgers along with other part-timers such as Otis Nixon, Rex Hudler, Tom Foley and Mike Fitzgerald.
And just like Rodgers loved to do, Martinez plans to get his team up and running with stealing and hit-and-run plays.
"We're going to be aggressive,'' Martinez said. "We want to put pressure on the other teams.''
Martinez doesn't like to boast much about the personal highlights of his playing time with the Expos but when prodded, he remembered hitting two home runs in one game. And he remembers throwing out runners at second and third, both in the same game.
"I loved throwing out runners,'' Martinez said.
What really stands out, though, for Martinez from a team point of view was 1989 when the Expos held the lead in the NL East for many weeks before folding in August and September, even after obtaining veteran lefty pitcher Mark Langston from the Mariners in exchange for pitchers Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris.
"We went into Chicago in August and we were swept and we lost seven in a row at one point,'' Martinez said, shaking his head at the thought.
Twenty-seven years later, Martinez has another contender on his hands and with Harper possibly playing his last season with the Nationals, what better time for the team to take a run at the World Series which Martinez and the Cubs won in 2016.
Martinez got the chance of a lifetime to manage in the majors and the Nationals are a talented group. We wish Martinez good luck as it takes on this new job. No longer is he a bench coach and confidant, he's running the ship.