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Martinez to play final game on Saturday

Tigers veteran to be honored with pregame ceremony
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- The games have been going by quickly for Victor Martinez ever since he confirmed earlier this summer he plans to retire at season's end. The way he wants to go out is to have Saturday's game be his last.

On the same night the Tigers honor Martinez for his 16-year Major League career with a pregame ceremony at Comerica Park, the designated hitter will take his final at-bats. Though he plans to follow the team on the road for the final week of the season in Minnesota and Milwaukee, he will not play.

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DETROIT -- The games have been going by quickly for Victor Martinez ever since he confirmed earlier this summer he plans to retire at season's end. The way he wants to go out is to have Saturday's game be his last.

On the same night the Tigers honor Martinez for his 16-year Major League career with a pregame ceremony at Comerica Park, the designated hitter will take his final at-bats. Though he plans to follow the team on the road for the final week of the season in Minnesota and Milwaukee, he will not play.

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"I feel like I owe it to the fans to have my final at-bats here," Martinez said.

The decision explains why Martinez saved the balls from both of his base hits Thursday night. He wants the ball from his last big league at-bat, so he's keeping them all over these final days just in case.

Martinez said he has extended family flying into town on Friday night who will be in attendance for the ceremony prior to the 6:10 p.m. ET game against the Royals on Saturday. The Cleveland Indians, Martinez's original team where he played from his debut in 2002 to '09, honored him last weekend at Progressive Field in a pregame ceremony that left him emotional as fans cheered.

Video: DET@CLE: Indians honor Victor Martinez before game

Expect more of the same Saturday as the immediacy of his retirement -- and more importantly, the appreciation of Detroit fans that have followed him from his Cleveland days to his arrival with the Tigers as a free agent before the 2011 season -- hits home.

"We had some good memories, man," Martinez said. "Those playoff runs that we went through, we had some good teams. Unfortunately, we didn't accomplish the final goal, winning a championship. But I have quite a few [memories]. The best year of my career I had here in Detroit. I'll take a lot from this city and keep it with me."

While Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez will go down as the most significant free-agent signings of the late Mike Ilitch's tenure as the Tigers' owner, Martinez shouldn't be far behind. He arrived as a switch-hitting catcher with a sweet swing whom general manager Dave Dombrowski signed to provide veteran offensive punch to a then-young Tigers lineup.

Martinez became primarily a designated hitter in Detroit, rarely catching after a knee injury in 2011, but his bat endured. He hit .330 with 12 homers and 103 RBIs in his first season in Detroit, helping the Tigers to their first division title since '87.

After an offseason knee injury cost Martinez the 2012 season, he came back in '13 with a .301 average. His power returned in '14 with 32 homers, 103 RBIs and an American League-best .974 OPS, leading him to a second-place finish in AL MVP voting.

That production in a contract year led to a four-year extension. His numbers have been up and down since, but his .289 average, 27 homers and 86 RBIs as a 37-year-old DH in 2016 helped the Tigers stay in playoff contention until the final day of the regular season.

No Tigers switch-hitter has driven in more runs than Martinez, who entered Friday with 540 RBIs with Detroit. His 1,031 hits rank third all-time among switch-hitters in Detroit, while his 115 home runs rank second in the group behind Tony Clark.

Martinez is one of 31 players to record 1,000 hits in a Tigers uniform. He's one of 14 Tigers to homer in his age 39-or-older season.

"I want to leave this game with no regrets," Martinez said. "I gave everything I had on the field."

Martinez gets to leave the game on his terms, healthy after last year's heart issues led to questions about life after baseball. He strongly hinted in Spring Training that this year would be his last, referencing the cattle ranch he has built in central Florida. His post-baseball plans have been clear for a while as he has mentored young hitters like Jeimer Candelario this season.

"I'm going to take a break," he said. "I'm going to spend a lot of time on a saddle, just working on the ranch and being with my kids. We lose a lot of moments in this game with our families. It's time for me.

"My 5-year-old, she's been counting down my games since there were 14 games left. I'm down to two, and she's really excited that daddy's going to be able to watch her dance and do all that stuff at home. I have never had that chance."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Victor Martinez