Tino Martinez, the slugging first baseman of the 90s Yankees dynasty, is part of the latest group of roving instructors to come through PNC Field this year, visiting the area for this series against Durham. Here, he answers some questions about his role with the Yankees, players he likes with the RailRiders and similarities between the last Yankees dynasty and this year’s team.
What brings you to town? Just making the rounds? I go see our Triple-A team, Double-A team, A-ball team throughout the year, about once or twice a month. First time here though. I usually catch these guys on the road a little bit closer to Florida, but I decided to come out here since I hadn’t been here.
How are you liking this role with the Yankees? I love it. I love it. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with the Yankees and be on board with them for quite a few years now. Living in Tampa — I was born and raised in Tampa — they run everything out of Tampa, so it makes it a lot easier. But it’s a great opportunity for me to stay in the game and watch these kids develop and become big leaguers.
What do you think about some of the guys who are here? Well, there’s a lot of big leaguers here. A lot of guys here have some big league time, and a lot of guys here who haven’t played in the big leagues that have a chance. It’s just the way baseball works. You just want to get that one opportunity and take advantage of it. And that’s what they’re all here for and that’s what makes it exciting.
Is there anyone who has really impressed you? They’re all good players. They really are. I’m more impressed with the guys that have been in the big leagues, like Tyler Wade and (Brandon) Drury and Toe (Ronald Torreyes), Clint Frazier. All those guys that come down here, they still keep working hard to get back up there, although they know they probably belong up there or (somewhere) in the big leagues. And It’s frustrating. It’s more impressive to watch them come down here and play hard and work for the other guys that are on the team.
How tough can that be for a player? It’s tough. There’s no doubt about it. It’s tough, but it’s all about how you handle it and these guys are handling it like true pros. They’ll be back in the big leagues soon.
How do you think minor league life has changed since you were in it? A lot nicer now, that’s for sure. Nicer stadiums, nicer food. … Weight rooms, video rooms, batting cages — I played in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, no batting cages, nothing. … It’s changed a lot. All the facilities are great now and obviously Scranton’s one of the most beautiful stadiums around as well.
You were a hitting coach. How do you feel about the way the hitting side of the game is trending? Well, it’s different, obviously. It’s more home runs and fly balls, launch angles — it’s just the way the game is. You have to adjust to it. It’s what the owners want: they want the home runs, they want the fly balls. And you have to work with the guys with all that kind of stuff. But you also have some guys that you have to keep a line-drive approach and use the whole field. So, it’s a combination of both, but the game is rending toward more home runs and strikeouts.
Is there an added importance on the guys who just make contact? I think it’s an added importance. If you look at the Yankees, you have Stanton, Judge, Sanchez — you’ve got some bombers on that team. You also have Brett Gardner, Didi will go the other way, Torres, Bird, so you have a good combination of both. You can’t have nine guys that strike out four times a game, obviously.
Obviously, 1998 was 20 years ago. Is it a weird symmetry with how the organization is looking right now? Well, I wouldn’t say weird, it’s exciting. I know it’s 20 years, but last year’s team was a great team. They finally got together a good group of young guys who played hard, played up to their potential and played winning baseball, basically. You saw guys who wanted to win, and that’s carried over into this season as well. With Judge leading the way and CC and Gardner, they’ve got a great group there and a great chance to win. It’s all about the players on that are committed to it.
Is there an adjustment to being on a team like ’98 where you know that you’re going to take everybody’s best shot? Oh yeah, It’s great. It’s fantastic. The Yankees, they’re not surprising anybody this year. The year they had last year, there’s a target on their back and they know it. And they’ve handled it like that’s the way they want it. They want everybody coming after them. They’ve accepted the challenge and played great baseball.
Associated Press photo