WASHINGTON -- The trip to Tampa, Fla., was brief for Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. It was a few days after the team had decided not to retain manager Dusty Baker, and Rizzo was about to meet with Dave Martinez, a candidate he had interviewed for this same managerial opening in the past.
Martinez picked up Rizzo after his flight so they could have lunch at Ocean Prime, a seafood restaurant about four miles from the airport. They sat together for about four hours.
Rizzo left Tampa after that meeting to interview other candidates, but he felt good about Martinez. He felt Martinez was different from the guy he had spoken to four years prior -- more prepared and confident about what he brought to the table. Four years ago, Martinez had called upon decision-making between Joe Maddon and himself. This time, he talked about how he does things and how he would moving forward.
Martinez emerged as the front-runner for the job he would eventually land, and on Thursday afternoon, he was officially introduced as the seventh manager in Nationals history. The news conference opened a busy day for the Nationals, who announced the hiring of Kevin Long as hitting coach on Thursday night.
"I told him, 'In my humble opinion, you are much more prepared to be the manager right now than you were two years ago,'" Rizzo said. "World Series ring on his finger. Deep into the playoffs each of the last three years. Taking a greater leadership role each and every time I was around the Chicago Cubs, and seeing how he handled things there. Taking his communication skills to another level."
In his first news conference as manager of the Nationals, Martinez spoke proudly about the opportunity in front of him. He never dreamed about being a coach or a manager after he retired from his 16-year playing career, but once Maddon asked him to join his staff with the Rays and he eventually became the bench coach in 2008, he began to have aspirations to manage. Martinez has been a candidate for years, including that interview in '13, before finally securing the job this time.
The position does not come without pressure. Martinez enters a veteran clubhouse loaded with differing personalities heading into a crucial season in franchise history. Washington parted ways with Dusty Baker after the club's most successful two-year stretch because of its inability to advance to the National League Championship Series. The club hired Martinez because it believes he is the person to lead it to a World Series championship.
"This team doesn't lack much," Martinez said. "It really doesn't. I think we just gotta get over the fact that we're not here just to win a playoff game. We're here to win the World Series."
Martinez is a first-time manager, but Rizzo believes that will be in name only. Martinez, who is also bilingual, is highly regarded around Major League Baseball for handling any behind-the-scenes issues in the Cubs' clubhouse.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein raved to Rizzo about Martinez's role in fostering the Cubs' culture, and Maddon referred to Martinez as his co-manager. Martinez said his style will often mirror that of Maddon, under whom he spent a decade as bench coach and who groomed him for the job.
When Martinez was with the Rays, he started playing music in the clubhouse about 15-20 minutes after losses so his players would not dwell on defeat. He said he would implement Sunday Fundays in Washington, something the Cubs have incorporated, with late arrivals to the ballpark and a team breakfast.
"I'm not a guy that's going to sit in the manager's office. I'm very hands-on," Martinez said. "I love talking to players, I love conversations with players. It's my strong suit. I collaborate a lot with front office, Mike, ownership to get it right."
Martinez. 53, has also spent the past decade learning from the Rays and Cubs, which have two of the more analytically minded front offices in MLB. Martinez was not shy that analytics would play a major role in his decision-making, which will represent a departure from previous Nationals managers. Baker possessed many strengths as the Nats' manager, and though he embraced analytics more than he ever got credit for, he was also beholden to some of the traditions borne from his earlier managing days.
"To me, what [Martinez] brings to the table is he's a perfect blend of the old school -- a 16-year veteran that grinded out a 16-year successful career in the big leagues -- and a creative, analytically minded person that can put both of them together and have the best of both worlds," Rizzo said.
Now, Martinez begins the tall task of taking over as the Nationals' manager. He will begin reaching out to players and building his coaching staff during the coming weeks. He will even fly to Arizona this weekend to attend an event with Max Scherzer. Washington has had instability in the manager's role -- six skippers in 10 years -- that could halt with Martinez.
"I'm looking forward to my tenure here," Martinez said. "And I really, really, really am blessed to be able to work with some of the finest, I believe one of the better teams in the National League. I'm looking forward to working with them and being a part of the 2018 championship season."