Down at AA, Martinez disappointed, determined

Chito Martinez walked into the third-base clubhouse at Memorial Stadium and put on the familiar black and orange of the Orioles, preparing to patrol right field.

The trouble for Martinez is that this is 1993, not 1991, the last season the Orioles played on 33rd Street.


Martinez, who until Monday was an Oriole, now wears the uniform of the Bowie Baysox, the Orioles' Double-A team.

Though some might say that Martinez, who hit the last Orioles home run at Memorial Stadium, is in the right place at the wrong time, he would not be one of them.


"I never wanted to go back to the minor leagues, but I'm here," said Martinez. "I'm going to try to keep a good focus and do what I can to get back there [the major leagues]."

Martinez began the season as the left-handed hitting member of the Orioles' right-field trio, with Luis Mercedes and Sherman Obando.

Martinez was expected to get the bulk of playing time in right, but was shelved when the Orioles faced a sizable number of left-handers in the first few weeks.

As a result, Martinez, a native of Belize in Central America, got only 15 at-bats, and was hitless. To make matters worse, he committed a costly base-running gaffe when he and two other Orioles all gathered at third base in the eighth inning of a home loss to the California Angels.

"I never really got a chance to get going. I only had 15 at-bats and I never got to play two or three days in a row," said Martinez.

Playing time became even more rare when infielder Mark McLemore was inserted into the right-field mix, essentially displacing Martinez.

And when pitcher Fernando Valenzuela was added to the roster Monday night as the fifth starter, Martinez knew what would happen.

"I expected it [the demotion] because the team was struggling and they were going to add a pitcher. When they started playing McLemore so much, I knew I would be sent down," said Martinez.


What Martinez didn't expect was to skip the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings for the Baysox. But there already is spirited competition in the Red Wings outfield among Damon Buford, Jack Voigt, Mark Smith and Mark Leonard.

With the Baysox, Martinez will get regular playing time and a chance to rediscover his stroke.

He scored a run in the sixth inning of the first game of last night's doubleheader with the Reading Phillies after he reached on an error.

In the second game, Martinez got his first April hit in two years, leading off the second by slapping a single to left-center.

After a double to right field moved him to third, Martinez scored on a grounder, then left the game.

"It was kind of a shock coming here," said Martinez. "I'm trying to get over that and keep a good frame of mind."


Martinez said the Orioles gave him no time frame for his return. And the competition for an outfield spot keeps getting tougher.

Jeffrey Hammonds, considered to be the Orioles' top prospect, is having a banner month with the Baysox, including a home run to left-center in the first inning last night.

"I know he's a good player and having a good year, but that really doesn't matter to me," said Martinez, 27. "I've got to hit and he's got to hit. That's the bottom line."