At 24, Juan Martinez still has the same dream that he had two years ago, when I wrote about him in "A League of Their Own," an April 2006 feature about Denver's Liga Latina de Beisbol, a predominately Mexican Front Range baseball league. It's the same dream he’s had his entire life: to be a Major League Baseball player. Now a utility player hitting third in the lineup for the Colorado State University-Pueblo Thunderwolves, Martinez feels he’s closer than he’s ever been thanks in part to Thunderwolves coach Stan Sanchez. "I’ve never had that one club pay full attention to me," says the Venezuelan-born Martinez. "And now I have a coach and a program helping me to achieve my goals."
Liga Latina de Beisbol is not only immensely popular amongst the Hispanic community, but it also draws some real talent, including several former major and minor leaguers. At the time of the article, Martinez was playing for a squad called the Yaquis de Piria, working to improve his foot speed (a common knock against him by several scouts) after stints at Metro and the Pensacola Pelicans, not to mention a near-miss at a full-ride scholarship to University of Mobile in Alabama. A former Overland High School product, he was using La Liga as a way to stay sharp and was eagerly anticipating a pre-draft workout at Coors Field where some of the top scouts in the region would get to see him perform. Unfortunately, the audition didn’t pan out, and he continued to bum around whatever league he could find, drifting down to Texas to play in the Continental Baseball League, then on to the Rocky Mountain Summer Collegiate Baseball League, where CSU-Pueblo’s Sanchez first caught a glimpse of him.
"He was very athletic," Sanchez says. "He had all the tools: power, running speed, good arm strength. We picked him up as a utility player and he’s doing a good job for us."
Martinez, who is majoring in mass communication in case a life on the diamond isn’t in the cards, hopes for a great year and sees this as just one more step in the many he has taken to try to achieve his dream.
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"My goal is to get drafted, and I feel like I’m closer and closer because they see my desire," he says. "Especially the scouts that now know me just from being around so much. The only person that can give up is me. People say I’m too old, that it’s too late, but I think it’s never too late to do something you desire."
He's encouraged by the rise of his boyhood friend from Caricuao, Venezuela, current Cleveland Indian’s outfielder Franklin Gutierrez. The two are the same age and grew up playing together, the two most talented kids in their town. In Gutierrez’s success, Martinez has realized that the path isn’t impossible. When Cleveland played the Rockies this year at Coors Field, Gutierrez invited his boyhood friend down into the dugout for a few games and assured him that it’s never too late; that he’s on the right path and his hard work will ultimately pay off.
With the CSU-Pueblo baseball program behind him now and the season starting in February, Juan Martinez is betting on it. -- Adam Cayton-Holland