USA Today Sports

Meet the man who helped J.D. Martinez find his way

Rob Bradford
July 28, 2018 - 7:56 pm

By now we know how J.D. Martinez does things.

He studies. He talks. He takes notes. And he hits home runs.

Meet the person who had a huge impact on what we're witnessing these days: Torii Hunter.

"It’s insane. It’s insane what he does with his bat," said Hunter, who is town as part of the Twins' radio broadcast. "It’s insane, but, really, I saw it."

Really the most important moment the former All-Star outfielder witnessed anything that has to do with Martinez came in 2013 when a few of the Tigers took notice of a part-time player taking batting practice for the Astros. That's where the story really begins.

"Me, Victor (Martinez) and Prince Fielder were watching him take batting practice at our place in Detroit and I couldn’t believe the balls he was hitting," Hunter remembered. "Right field, to center field and left field, and he was hitting bombs. I’m like, ‘Why the hell isn’t he playing?’ I went to (then-Astros manager) Bo Porter to ask him why he wasn’t playing and he said he didn’t have a position, but he could hit.

"When they released him I remembered his name and was like ‘They are going to release him and nobody is picking him up? Let’s go get him.’ We told somebody who went and told (Dave) Dombrowski and he picked him up. We’re like, ‘They listened!’ I love Dombrowski. He thought if the veteran players want him there must be something they see."

Once Martinez was in the fold with the Tigers, that's where the fun began for Hunter.

"His locker was next to mine, I made sure it was next to mine," he said. "I’m like, ‘This dude has something special.’ The first month was trying to find his way on a new team. After that this dude was destroying it, and then his career just took off.

"This dude was a sponge. He watched me to a T. He would see me do this or that. I told him I would go home at night, study, come back and know the pitcher to a T. And he saw it and he brought it up. He said, ‘How do you know the pitcher so well.’ I said, ‘I study them at night. I put the wife to bed. The kids to bed. I started studying the pitcher I had to face the next day.’ I studied and I studied. I wanted to know my enemy. We focus on our body so much but we forget what he’s trying to do. He drives a Mercedes just like you do, so figure out what he does."

So the process began, with the results following not far behind.

After a couple of months of good but not great production in that first year with the Tigers, Martinez took off. From May 27 until the end of the 2014 season the righty hitter managed a .322 batting average and .926 OPS with 21 homers. All the while listening and learning from the likes of Hunter, Martinez and Miguel Cabrera.

"J.D. made it a part of his career, just like he made everything else he got from everybody. He was around some wise guys," Hunter said. "The wisdom we obtain, we just try and give it back. And I’ve been that guy. This guy was a beast and he had a good swing, so if we could pick him up I want to give him some stuff that can make him better. It’s all mental. There was something about his confidence. Him being released and coming back and be rejuvenated made him have a burning fire and that was the foundation to fight. You see where he is today? That’s a fighter. He got rewarded because he put in the work. You don’t get rewarded for nothing."

More Red Sox content

- J.D. Martinez won't talk contract during the season

- Source: Red Sox show interest in Rangers' closer