Role with Marlins a reversal for Tino Martinez

There was a time when Tino Martinez was certain that he would never coach.

It’s not that he didn’t want to, necessarily. It was more that the grind of baseball — travel, long days, late nights, time away from the family — had taken its toll over the course of 16 seasons in the major leagues.

“I said, ‘Never again,’ ” Martinez said. “When I was done playing baseball, my career was over, I said I’d never coach. I’d never do that schedule again.”

Never say never.

The four-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees is back in the game, now in the first year of a three-year deal to be the Miami Marlins hitting coach.

At 45, he still looks like he could play, and he thinks he can get plenty out of what’s expected to be a relatively young Miami opening-day roster.

“There’s a respect factor he brings right in,” said Larry Beinfest, the Marlins’ baseball operations president. “Winner. Great hitter. No doubt about it, instant respect because of what he did. He’s a great guy, too.”

He spent five seasons working with the Yankees as a spring-training instructor, and acknowledges now that he always felt a little saddened when the club went north without him. So when the Marlins called late last year with an offer, Martinez was finally willing to listen.

For a team that went through plenty of roster shuffling after last season’s collapse, the addition of Martinez might prove to be one of the bigger moves.

“Guys will love working with him,” Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre said. “He was as respected a hitter as there was in the game, and now he’s going to pass along what he knows.”

Martinez batted .271 for his career with 339 home runs, never batting .300 in any season yet still earning a certain measure of respect from those in the game. He was with the Yankees for their run of four World Series titles in five years between 1996 and 2000, and enjoyed his best season in 1997 — hitting .296 with 44 home runs and 141 RBIs.

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His teaching style, he said, will be simple.

“You want those players who come out and play hard every day, teach them how to play the game the right way, run the bases, run to first base hard all the time, just play the game the right way,” Martinez said. “I’m going to teach them how to be complete hitters. We feel like we can help them become good baseball players overall.”

He went to the playoffs nine times, appearing in 99 postseason games. Many players, even on a young roster like the Marlins’, have some recollection of him as a player.

But Martinez hopes there’s more to his relationship with the Marlins than just the credibility that comes with having won four rings.

“I think it helps a little bit going into the job,” Martinez said. “But me going in there and busting my butt, working hard in the cage with them and showing them I want them to really be great players, that’s going to help my credibility. I want everybody on the team to hit. When they don’t, I struggle. It affects me too. When they strike out, it’ll feel like I struck out.”

He’s likely still thought of as a Yankee, even though he played for a number of other clubs, including Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. And spending a half-decade with the Yankees at their spring complex in Tampa, Fla. — which he still calls home — shows the level of respect the team still has for its former first baseman.

But changing uniforms, he said, was easy.

“I love the Yankee organization,” Martinez said. “I love the people there. But I wanted to get back into coaching. I didn’t want to take anybody’s job there or try to get a job there. If things happened, they happened. But this was a great situation for me. I’ve got a three-year contract. I want to be here at least three years and see how it goes.”

And now spring is here. This time, a job will await when Grapefruit League play is over.

The time was right, and a new beginning for the Marlins is a new beginning for Martinez as well.

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“I think it’s going to be great,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “Everybody’s been asking about Tino. Everyone’s excited about Tino. You look at what he’s been able to do as a player, four World Series rings, he brings an outstanding resume. I think our guys are going to respond to him. He’s really excited. He’s fired up to work with these young kids.”