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Power Ball

Chris Martinez of Chaminade May Have Been the Suprise of Spring With His State-Record 20 Home Runs

June 13, 1998|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST HILLS — His coach calls Chris Martinez a great situational hitter.

Of course, a home run will do in just about any situation.

And Martinez, second baseman for Chaminade High, delivered home runs in 20 situations this season, setting a state record for homers in a season.

He says he doesn't know how it happened, that hitting home runs is not his game.

His coaches say the same thing.

Still, the 5-foot-8 Martinez, who hit three home runs as a sophomore and six as a junior, kept swinging away and the balls kept flying over the fence. He finished the season with a .396 average and a region-leading 55 runs batted in.

"There were a couple of instances where the ball would go out and I was the most surprised guy on the field," Martinez said.

If he should happen to hit one out today during the Bernie Milligan all-star game at Cal State Northridge at 4 p.m., it won't be much of a surprise to anyone.

Martinez, who will start at second base and bat second for the West team in today's game, has shown power from start to finish this season.

The power surge began with a three-home run game March 13 against San Fernando and continued all the way through a three-home run game against Big Bear in the Eagles' final regular-season game.

"I knew the kid was a great hitter since the first day I met him," Chaminade Coach Scott Drootin said. "But I didn't know he had that kind of power."

Though Drootin was impressed by Martinez' power, he still remembers a bunt single Martinez laid down to drive in the winning run in a playoff game last season as his most important hit.

"Everyone talks about his home runs," Drootin said. "But his biggest hit was that bunt. That's how versatile he is."

A self-described gap hitter, Martinez said he just started swinging down and through the ball and the ball started jumping off his bat.

"I think just learning about hitting was the key," Martinez said. "And a lot of luck."

The home runs haven't gone to his head. He still does not think of himself as a power hitter, and takes great pride in playing a complete game.

"A lot of guys thought that just because I hit a lot of home runs, that's all I can do," Martinez said. "But I was still putting bunts down and hitting to the gap when we needed it."

Defense is also a strength for Martinez, who had a .950 fielding percentage and made just five errors this season.

The state record of 17 home runs, set by catcher Brian Johnson, now with the San Francisco Giants, of Oakland Skyline in 1986 seemed safe as Chaminade entered its final three regular-season games.

Heck, Ryan Hamill's school record of 16 didn't appear to be in jeopardy.

But after two home runs in a Mission League game against Loyola on May 8 gave Martinez 15 for the season, people began to talk about Hamill's record.

"I didn't have a clue about the state record," Martinez said.

"But people were saying that Hamill had set some kind of record with 16."

Then Martinez put on a monstrous display in a May 9 doubleheader against Big Bear, going seven for 10 with five home runs and 15 RBIs.

"It seemed like every shot was going further than the last one," Drootin said.

"People from Big Bear were leaving the game to go tell their friends and coming back with three or four people. By the end, the crowd was twice as big."

Because the state home run record seemed so distant entering the final three games, Martinez never felt any pressure to break it.

There was no fanfare, no constant buzz around him and no media spotlight on him like there is on Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals as he attempts to break the major league home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.

"I was more like Mark Lemke," Martinez said.

All-Star Baseball

* What: Bernie Milligan all-star baseball game.

* Where: Cal State Northridge.

* When: 4 p.m.

* Tickets: $5 adult, $2 children 12 and under.

* Fast Fact: There will be a home-run derby at 2 p.m.

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