Cleveland's Martinez Is First in the Hearts Of His Countrymen

THE is known as "El Presidente" in his native Nicaragua for his statesmanlike presence on the mound. But even though Cleveland pitcher Dennis Martinez finished first in a nationwide popularity poll there, he prefers that the title remains a nickname.

"I received that as a great gesture and as a way to show me that they really believe in me," the veteran pitcher says of the poll results. But the downside is that "people want to use you also as a figurehead, and I don't like to be used by anybody. If I would choose to do something, I would choose it because I want to do it.

"I'm the type of person who likes to do everything right," continued the man who held the Seattle Mariners to four hits and no runs in the series-winning Game 6 of the American League Championship Tuesday night. "And I know that in our country there is a lot of corruption and problems. So, I don't like to get involved with anything that's dirty."

Unless, of course, it's a mound of dirt that he can stand on.

A major-leaguer for 19 years, Martinez is scheduled to pitch in Game 2 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta this Sunday night.

Martinez isn't the type of pitcher who throws 95-m.p.h. fastballs like Seattle Mariner Randy Johnson. Martinez likes to mix it up: "Dennis is definitely a finesse pitcher now," Indians' manager Mike Hargrove told the Boston Globe. "He moves the ball up and down, in and out." He will not hesitate to throw inside pitches to batters; he leads the league in batters hit with pitches by mistake.

Signed with the Cleveland Indians through next year, Martinez is a three-time major-league all-star who ended the 1995 season with a record of 12-5 and a 3.08 earned-run average (ERA).

Martinez first signed with the Indians as a free agent in 1993. Since then he says he has gotten a feel for the stadium and the fans. "It's one of the best [stadiums] in baseball," he says of brand-new Jacobs Field. "I think it really changed the atmosphere and the attitude toward the city of Cleveland. The excitement is there. It's a great place to be and a great place to play ball."

Martinez first pitched for the Baltimore Orioles and later with the Montreal Expos, alongside such pitching greats as Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan. Martinez says he always picks up something from the pitchers he plays with. He's "always learning," he says: "I try to learn the most that I can and use it when I can."

In 1983, he hit a low point: He was abusing alcohol, and his pitching statistics suffered. He had his lowest winning percentage and his highest earned-run average that season. In fact, his ERA was above 5.00 for three seasons in a row. But the next year he sought help for his drinking problem, and slowly his career began to turn around.

In 1986, he began the season in the minor leagues on a rehab option because of an ailing right shoulder. That June the Orioles traded him to Montreal, where he also played in the minors for a short time.

"That was a good thing that happened to me," he says now of being sent to play on farm clubs. It gave him a new appreciation for being in the majors. "While you're [in the majors], you take it for granted. What I did was try to keep working hard and fortunately I was able to get back again and do the job."

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