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Passion for hitting fuels Martinez's success

D-backs slugger credits his mentors with crafting his swing
Special to MLB.com

Inspiration can come from just about anywhere: another person, an event, a book, a movie or perhaps a quote. Occasionally inspiration can lead individuals to do great things -- and that was the case for D-backs outfielder J.D. Martinez.

As a child growing up in southern Florida, the Miami-born outfielder -- who clubbed 29 homers in just 62 games with the D-backs this season -- picked up the game of baseball at a very young age, due to a little push from his father, who wanted to ensure that his son stayed away from more injury-prone activities.

Inspiration can come from just about anywhere: another person, an event, a book, a movie or perhaps a quote. Occasionally inspiration can lead individuals to do great things -- and that was the case for D-backs outfielder J.D. Martinez.

As a child growing up in southern Florida, the Miami-born outfielder -- who clubbed 29 homers in just 62 games with the D-backs this season -- picked up the game of baseball at a very young age, due to a little push from his father, who wanted to ensure that his son stayed away from more injury-prone activities.

"I started playing ball when I was 4 years old," said Martinez, who was named NL Player of the Week for Sept. 4-10 and Sept. 11-17, which also translated into NL Player of the Month Award honors. "I played street basketball for a while and wanted to play competitively, but I was so used to the street-style of game that I would have fouled out by the end of the first quarter. The main reason my dad put me in baseball, though, was to keep me off the streets and out of trouble.

Video: Martinez named NL Player of the Month for September

"But my parents did a great job of giving me a fantastic, well-rounded childhood. I have so many memories of going fishing and camping as a kid, and my dad had season tickets to watch the Marlins -- and that's where I fell in love with the game."

With names like Gary Sheffield, Trevor Hoffman and even D-backs hitting coach Dave Magadan on the roster back in the day, Martinez had a plethora of quality players to admire. But the overall play of one Marlins player stood out above the rest.

"Growing up," he said, "I was there for the inaugural season. I remember 1997 and 2003, when they won the World Series, but I grew up with Benito Santiago as my favorite player before Miguel Cabrera got there. The way Benito could launch balls and he had a cannon behind the plate as a catcher, it just made me love baseball and want to play it as much as I could."

With his passions clearly defined, Martinez began to refine his craft every day. He had a little help, though, from former Major League All-Star catcher Paul Casanova.

"When I was about 10 years old, I met Cassie," said the 30-year-old outfielder. "He was my mentor growing up. The way he would tell stories about his time in the Majors is what I loved the most. He had so many stories about guys he played with, like Hank Aaron or the day Dick Allen came to the ballpark. His stories were so cool to me. I remember thinking as a kid, 'I want to be able to tell stories like this when I get older.' And he had so many pieces of Cuban baseball history in his house, that it was like a museum. They actually called it the 'Cuban Museum,' but it was a hitting academy."

The so-called Cuban Museum was a home away from home for Martinez, who said he would spend as much time at Casanova's house as he would his own.

"Starting in middle school, I would play on two or three baseball teams at the same time, because that's just how things worked in south Florida," said the outfielder. "I would practice six or seven days each week. I honestly don't know how my parents did it, but my dad always found a way to make it to each and every game.

"So after class, I would go to practice for school. After practice, I would go to Cassie's house and he or Jackie Hernandez, a former shortstop for the Pirates, would throw me batting practice for two or three hours every night. I'd come home afterward and my parents would leave dinner in the microwave for me. I'd heat it up, eat it and go to sleep each night before I woke up and did the same thing the next day. But Cassie's house is where I fell in love with hitting and everything that went into it. He and Jackie gave me that. I definitely wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them."

For Martinez, the time at "Cassie's" house taught him more about himself than anything else. Martinez said that although he already loved the game when he met Casanova, his passion for hitting only strengthened as time passed.

"Hitting became my life," said Martinez. "I remember when I was in high school, I was going through a rough time. But hitting became my escape. It was my way of getting away from everything and just disconnecting from the world. I would just go out there and hit. It was in the cage where I fell in love with trying to master something that can't be mastered, trying to perfect something that can't be perfected. It's just one of those things where there's no perfect way to do it, and I fell in love with trying to figure out why certain guys had success and why other guys don't, and ensuring I turned myself into one of the guys who does."

A 20th-round Draft pick in 2009, Martinez broke into the big leagues in 2011 and hit .275 with six home runs and 35 RBIs in 53 games for the Astros. In 2014, he signed with the Tigers as a Minor League free agent, and within a year he'd go on to win the 2015 Silver Slugger Award and make the American League All-Star team. But he did so with a completely reworked swing.

Video: Must C Classic: Martinez hits four homers, plates six

"When I was with the Astros, I watched as my teammate Jason Castro was having an incredible year," said Martinez. "At that time, I wasn't playing very well, so I went and watched video of his swing and realized that mine was way different. I began studying the swings of guys like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols and asked myself, 'What am I doing?'

"At the end of the 2013 season, I dedicated myself to changing my swing. I traveled to California to work with the team that worked with Jason and they helped me change my technique. After that, I went to Venezuela in 2014 to try out my new swing and in the first three games, I felt a change in the force I could put behind the ball. It was something I never thought possible, and I haven't been the same player since."

After coming to the D-backs in a trade that sent three Minor League infielders to Detroit this past July, Martinez flourished hitting behind D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Highlighted by Labor Day's MLB-record-tying night in Los Angeles in which he became the 18th player -- and the first D-backs player -- to hit four home runs in a game, he had one of the most offensively dominant second halves the game has ever seen. His 29 home runs after coming to Arizona were the most second-half homers in franchise history, as were his 16 September long balls.

Video: IT talks with J.D. Martinez on his four-homer game

"He's a really smart hitter," Goldschmidt told USA Today. "I love talking to J.D., and getting his take on pitchers, and what he's trying to do. I have so much respect for what he's done."

Added Martinez, "I played with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in Detroit, so I had great mentors. Coming here at first, I thought about how I'd be one of the oldest players on the team, but everyone here was good. Everyone here knew what we were doing, and that's a direct testament to how good the leadership was on this team."

D-backs executive vice president and general manager Mike Hazen, who wasted little time bringing Martinez to Arizona 13 days before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, spoke highly about the impact that the slugging outfielder had on the ballclub.

"We were fortunate to get J.D.," said Hazen. "He certainly carried us there, offensively, for the better part of a couple months. It's pretty amazing, pretty impressive what he did. His consistency in the middle of the lineup was something we needed."

Martinez's teammate, closer Fernando Rodney, played for seven teams over his 15-year career before signing with the D-backs this past offseason, and he said Martinez adapted to the change of scenery seamlessly.

"For J.D., the change was interesting to watch, because I feel like he came into a comfortable environment here in Arizona," Rodney said. "The companionship we had here was very good, as was our communication. There was a climate here filled with good teammates, and I think that really helped him adjust to his new team."

Ian Kraft is a contributor to MLB.com.

Arizona Diamondbacks