BOSTON -- When star Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez steps to the plate at Tropicana Field this weekend against the Rays during Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain, he will have "Flaco" on the back of his jersey.:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::Considering the Spanish word "flaco" translates
BOSTON -- When star Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez steps to the plate at Tropicana Field this weekend against the Rays during Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain, he will have "Flaco" on the back of his jersey.:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::
Considering the Spanish word "flaco" translates to "skinny" in English, this might be confusing. Martinez is built as you'd expect the MLB leader in home runs to be.
It turns out Martinez has had the nickname since he was a 12-year-old boy in Miami learning how to hit. And by wearing the name on his back for a second straight year during Players' Weekend, he's able to pay tribute to someone who helped him get to where he is now.
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That man is Paul Casanova, a former Major Leaguer for the Senators and Braves who died at the age of 75 last August. Casanova was a hitting instructor at the facility Martinez went to.
"When I was 12, I used to go hit with Paul," Martinez said. "He played with Hank Aaron on the Braves. He was kind of like my mentor growing up as far as hitting. The first time I walked in there, I was really skinny, so he started calling me Flaco."
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Martinez still hears the name quite a bit during the offseason in Miami.
"All through Miami, the guys who grew up with me hitting at the place I hit, they all call me Flaco," Martinez said. "Nobody calls me J.D. It's like, 'Hey, Flaco.'"
It turns out that the nickname was perfect for a 12-year-old Martinez.
"It means really skinny, because I was a twig," Martinez said.
Though Casanova didn't teach Martinez the launch angle techniques that he's become legendary for, he did impart perhaps something even more important.
"He made me fall in love with baseball," Martinez said. "He was the one who taught me everything in baseball. Him and Jackie Hernandez, who used to play for the Pirates. Paul was very special to me."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.