MARTINEZ POUNDS AWAY THE WEIGHT : Padre Left Fielder Tightens His Belt to Get Running Start on His Fielding

Times Staff Writer

By his own standards, Carmelo Martinez looks svelte. By anyone else's, he looks as if he needs a very large belt.

Oakland's Reggie Jackson saw Martinez at the plate during a "B" game the other day and got all over him.

"Look at that waistline! Look at that body!"

Reggie then walked within 30 feet of the plate. Martinez couldn't help but see him, and Jackson couldn't help but laugh.

"Throw him a hot dog in the dirt!" Jackson told his pitcher. "He'll go for it!"

So, forever and ever it seems, Martinez--the Padres' chunkiest player--must deal with this. Last year, he ran his hardest for all those fly balls in left field, but he just didn't run fast enough. And the fans blamed him, of course, and sort of made him the scapegoat for a bad season.

Perhaps he's the stockiest guy, but he's also perhaps the nicest. He is truly Mellow Carmelo. Walk up to him anytime, say hello and he'll say, "Talk to me . . . talk to me . . ."

Of last season, he said: "I was trying to have fun through it all. You never saw me down."

Now his weight is down. After last season, when the 6-foot 2-inch Martinez weighed 220, he went home and overate and weighed 230 pounds by Christmas. Seattle's Dick Williams wanted to trade for him, but he was scared off by his weight. Padre Manager Larry Bowa wrote Martinez a letter, telling him to shape up.

He is down to 205 pounds. He doesn't have late-night snacks anymore, and he basically eats one meal a day, at about 6 p.m. He doesn't eat breakfast because he says the subsequent morning workouts would make him queasy. At the ballpark, he nibbles a bit on odds and ends. On a typical day, he'll have only a cup of soup and a can of soda. Then dinner.

So he should be a bit quicker to those fly balls, and he is. The problem is, however, is he quick enough? Bowa realizes the Padres won't score too many runs this year, so he says it might be best to put his best defensive team on the field.

That eliminates Martinez.

"It still feels weird in left," said Martinez, who has been a first baseman as far back as Little League and is more comfortable playing first. He split his time between first and left last season. "But I've got to deal with it. I know it'll be tough, and I know the fans might get on me at home games. But it won't bother me. I'm not the best (left fielder), but I'm not the worst.

"I made mistakes in the outfield (last year). I'm aware of that. But it was the manager (Steve Boros) who began to look at me differently. I made a few mistakes early, and he'd take me out in the fifth or sixth inning. But you can check it. When I made a mistake last year, it never hurt the ballclub, but he made me feel that way."

Finally, Boros benched Martinez.

"I didn't know if I'd ever play last year," said Martinez, who batted .238 in 113 games. "I'd come in every day to check the lineup card, but after a month, I wasn't even checking anymore. I didn't play for months, so what could I expect?"

His mother and grandmother back in Puerto Rico helped him out. Martinez says his mother would call him last season and they would have conversations such as:

"Carmelo, what did you do yesterday?"

"Oh for four."

"Again . . . What's wrong?"

"I don't know."

"Talk to me . . . "

As for his grandmother, Martinez says she would scan every box score to see how he did.

"Where I come from, my family taught me never to get down on myself," said Martinez, who is an only child. "My mother and grandmother, they love to have fun.

"I feel like I started playing ball on my own. But my mother and grandmother took care of me and were involved with me. They were my biggest fans. Where I live, those are my true fans. I started watching and listening to professional games, and I loved (Roberto) Clemente and (Orlando) Cepeda. I loved mathematics and I could have had a career in that if I'd gone to college, but why not do what you love?"

He especially loved playing first base and still does. Bowa says Martinez will play some left field but also will back up Steve Garvey at first and will get a number of starting assignments there too. Williams wanted him in Seattle specifically for his defense at first. And in a spring training game the other day, Martinez made a great stretch at first to complete a game-ending double play.

Left field remains an adventure for Martinez. And at the plate so far, he has ended a lot of innings. His spring batting average is .242, but Bowa doesn't seem concerned. While Martinez was having his soup and soda the other day, Bowa walked up to him.

"Talk to me," Martinez said.

"Hey, keep swinging," Bowa said. "Don't worry about it. It'll come."

Martinez likes Bowa better than Boros.

"He (Bowa) will let me know what's happening," Martinez said. "Oh, he'll get on you when you make a stupid mental mistake, but you know what he expects. He'll jump on your case. But last year, I didn't know what to expect."

Padre fans still don't know what to expect when a fly ball heads his way in left.

"Fly balls are easy to catch," he said. "It's the line drives right at you I hate.

"Listen, I see it as a challenge. I want them to hit it to me. If you sit out there and do nothing for six or seven innings, you can bet they'll hit a bunch of nasty ones right at you all of a sudden. When the first guy comes up in a game, I say, 'C'mon, hit it to me.' Once you get the first one out of the way, you're in business."

In the first spring game of the year, the first fly ball of the year was hit--where else? --to left field.

"Ohhhhhh noooooo!" said a bunch of fans.

"I said 'Oh no!' too," Martinez remembered.

When he caught it, the fans applauded and screamed with sarcasm: "All right!"

"I said, 'All right!' too," Martinez remembered.

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