DETROIT — When the Tigers' 2014 season ended, Victor Martinez could have signed with any team. But that wasn't what he wanted. Martinez in fact, did not want to go anywhere. He wanted to stay in Detroit.
The Tigers have meant a great deal to Martinez. So much so that he wanted to finish his career in Detroit. For Martinez, the Tigers are more than a team. They, the city of Detroit, and the fans, have become like a family for the designated hitter and his family.
During the season and after the Tigers were eliminated from the postseason when they played the Baltimore Orioles, Martinez was asked if he wanted to stay with the Tigers. His response was the same every time. "They know."
Martinez made sure they knew. During Friday's press conference, Tigers president and GM, Dave Dombrowski recounted a conversation he and Martinez had earlier in the season. Martinez had pulled Dombrowski aside and asked to talk to him in private. In a privacy of a small executive locker room, Martinez expressed how much he earnestly wanted to stay when his contract was up — even if he wasn't strictly following the rules.
"He says ‘you know I've never done anything like this before, and maybe I'm not supposed to do this because my agents may not like this,'" Dombrowski remembered. "But he said ‘I want you to know how much I want to be a Detroit Tiger. I don't want to go anywhere after this contract. This is my home, it's like my family, and my family feels the same way. And I want to be a Detroit Tiger.'"
The feeling was mutual. Martinez hasn't just become a beloved player to the team. Beyond the player, Victor, as a person, is well-loved in Detroit, both he and his family. Tigers owner, Mike Ilitch, has seen something special in Martinez and Friday he didn't hide his feelings on the matter after the press conference.
"He's just as cool as a cucumber and his teammates think the world of him," Ilitch said.
When the Tigers clinched their fourth consecutive American League Central Division title, Martinez was thrilled to have another chance at a World Series ring. Beyond that, Martinez had just wrapped up a career-season at 35-years-old and his focus was unmatched at the plate. Ilitch appreciated what Martinez accomplished, so he promised him something.
"When we won the pennant that last game, and we were so happy," Ilitch said. "We went to the manager's office, I was sitting next to Victor (Martinez), and I put my arm around him. I said ‘Victor, you had a fantastic year. You played great, good sportsmanship, never seemed to lose your cool, and I'm going to take care of you next year.'"
Ilitch kept his promise, not just signing Martinez to the contract he was seeking, but making Martinez the highest-paid designated hitter of all time. After Martinez, sitting next to Ilitch, listened to the owner talk about his efforts, and the type of person Ilitch considered Martinez to be, he smiled.
"I think that says a lot," Martinez said. "For me it's an honor just to wear this uniform for the rest of my career and playing in front of these great fans."
The Tigers don't expect Martinez to hit 30-plus homers for the next four years (although that would be impressive), but they do fully anticipate he'll be able to drive in 100 runs and be a productive bat in the lineup for the duration of his contract.
Dombrowski noted the calculated risk a team takes when signing any longer contracts, but the Tigers easily felt the risk was worth taking. It also helped that Ilitch thinks so highly of Martinez, thus, authorizing the expenditure. As to whether the expenditure exhibits a statement that the Tigers are still in a win-now mode, Ilitch looked through his pockets and physically checked his wallet, then laughed.
"Yeah, I'm OK," he smiled. "I've got some $20s in here. You know how I feel, about the same way, since I've had the Club. I love baseball, being a minor leaguer it's in your blood. It's a great sport and I'm very fortunate, being an owner of a major league team. I'm just a happy man."
Martinez will be with the Tigers for the duration that Tigers manager Brad Ausmus fulfills his contract. To that end, Martinez is "excited" to work with both he and the coaching staff. Martinez said the feeling he gets from being with the Tigers feels like home and he wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
"I have never been on a team like this that shows everybody how much everybody wants to win," Martinez said. "We have a lot of work to do, starting next spring. I'm really excited about it, and I'm just happy to finish my career here in Detroit."