José Martínez has a few stories about visiting Wrigley Field as a Cardinal.
“But we’re going to get there later,” he said laughing.
Martínez sat in front of a green screen in PNC Park for his introductory virtual press conference with the Chicago media Tuesday, cracking jokes to the screen in front of him. Two days before, the Cubs had traded cash considerations and/or up to two players to be named later to Tampa Bay in the hopes that Martínez could fortify the Cubs batting order against left-handed pitchers.
Even with Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl on the mound Tuesday, Cubs manager David Ross slid Martínez into the lineup right away.
Martínez returns to the NL Central, where he’s spent most of his career, and to the city of Chicago. Martínez began his minor league career in the White Sox farm system, and his father Carlos Martínez played for the Sox for three seasons.
“It never (crossed) my mind that I would play for this organization,” Martínez said, “not even going back to the White Sox either.”
The Cubs, and specifically their fans, had made an impression on Martínez in his four years with the Cardinals.
“You always want to play the Cubs,” Martínez said, “just because of the atmosphere around the stadium, the fans always getting into it. A lot of Cub fans were there in Busch Stadium too.”
Martínez, with a career .554 slugging percentage against lefties, made an impression on the Cubs as well.
“He gave us nightmares for years,” Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said. “He was one of the guys in that lineup that every time he came up you felt like he was going to put the ball in play, going to get a hit, was going to do damage in a big spot.”
Martínez never settled into that same role with Tampa Bay this year. He started in just six of his last 12 games as a Ray.
With inconsistent playing time, as Martínez adjusted to playing in the American League for the first time in his career, his batting average sunk to .239.
“I think it's huge to add a right-handed bat,” Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward said, with the Cubs hitting .208 against left-handed pitching. “It's huge to add a bat that's been a part of our division and has some experience there.”
Martinez too said returning to the NL Central gave him a confidence boost.
“Just knowing a lot of pitching,” he said, “a lot of situations and stadiums and stuff is going to help me out a lot.”