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Sports Talk : Phone Call Rings the Bell With Young Pitcher

July 27, 1989|Fernando Dominguez

It was 9 in the evening when Fili Martinez got the phone call he had hoped for since he began playing baseball. The California Angels were on the line. They had picked him in the ninth round of the June free agent draft. Pro ball was a John Hancock away.

There was still plenty of excitement the next morning at the Martinez home in Highland Park. Filiberto the dad skipped work at the Glendale store where he sells men's clothes to celebrate with Filiberto the son. And so did the proud mom, Bertha.

Even Grandma Bertha and Aunt Margaret played hooky from their jobs. "I told my boss, 'My grandson got drafted by the Angels. I'm taking the day off,' " she said laughing.

Only 17-year-old Angela and 8-year-old Abraham, Martinez's sister and brother, weren't there. It wasn't OK for them to cut school.

The reaction of the others was understandable, though. It isn't every day that someone in your family is picked to play professional baseball. Martinez himself didn't know what to expect.

"I thought I would get drafted last year, but nothing happened," said the 22-year-old left-handed pitcher. "Toronto approached me in the fall, but I didn't know what they had in mind. I was surprised the Angels took me."

Perhaps that was because Martinez did not realize that the club has been on a shopping spree for left-handed pitchers lately. Last year, it chose Olympian Jim Abbott, and this year it made Cal State Long Beach star Kyle Abbott--no relation--its first selection. Martinez followed.

"He will throw constantly 85 to 86 (m.p.h.), which is very good," said Dean Gruwell of the Angels, who scouted the hurler. "He has a live body, a good arm and good endurance. He's a real competitor."

Martinez's mom is no major league scout, but she had a hunch for a long time. Call it mother's intuition. Or wishful thinking.

"We always though he would play professionally," she said while showing a visitor a photo of her son's Little League team from years ago at nearby Cypress Park. A cabinet filled with trophies anchors a corner of the small living room, and a poster-size color photo of Martinez in a Cal State Northridge uniform decorates a wall.

It was at CSUN that Martinez developed into a pro prospect. He had been an All-City baseball player at Franklin High School, where he also was a football standout, but somehow was ignored by college baseball recruiters. He entered Northridge and made the baseball team as a walk-on in 1986.

Martinez pitched in only six games the first two years, 18 the third and became the ace of the staff last season with an 8-4 record, 2.45 ERA and 11 complete games in 14 starts. Among the highlights was a 4-2 non-conference victory at USC in March that he said was an attention-grabber.

"After I beat SC, that's when they (the scouts) really started getting interested," recalled Martinez, who needs another year to get his degree in political science. "(Northridge) Coach (Bill) Kernen told me I beat them because I was good. He is the one who really taught me how to pitch."

Now it's on to graduate school in the Angel farm system.

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