FAIRFIELD — The Middle Tennessee State University softball team has had seven winning seasons since it began play in 1993 – the three best with Jennifer Martinez as its ace pitcher.
Martinez, who went by “Jenni” when she was a standout pitcher at Fairfield High, has been selected for induction as the 131st member of the Blue Raider Sports Hall of Fame, and the first ever from the MTSU softball program.
Induction ceremonies will take place Oct. 3-4.
“Oh, its – I don’t even know what the word is – I’m very honored, that’s for sure, to get it,” said Martinez, who still lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn. “I was really shocked, surprised and excited . . . It’s an honor that not very many people get, inducted into a hall of fame. It’s sinking in slowly. It’s still a thrill at the same time. Why did they pick me?”
A quick look at the MTSU softball team’s record book explains why.
According to Martinez, she was supposed to be eased into things as a freshman, but events changed all that.
“My freshman year, when I came out there,” Martinez said, “the head coach (Karen Green) said, ‘You’re not going to be a starter. You’re going to sit back and adjust to college, come in when needed.'”
But when one of the two starting pitchers needed shoulder surgery, Martinez was put into the rotation and stayed there all four years.
Getting a chance to swing a bat took a little longer. Martinez was one of the few pitchers Fairfield co-head coaches Ron Clarke and Ed Houk allowed to hit and that tradition carried over to MTSU, but not until her junior season.
“My freshman year, I was told I wasn’t one of the top nine batters in the lineup to hit,” Martinez said. “I was a little bummed out about that. At the end of my freshman year I tore my ACL. As a sophomore they didn’t want me to injure myself hitting and sliding.”
By the time her junior year rolled around, Martinez took a stand.
“I said, ‘I’m going to hit. If I’m not going to hit, I’m not going to pitch,'” she said.
The move more than paid off as in 2001 Martinez led the team in hitting (.329), doubles (20), total bases (83), RBIs (36), slugging percentage (.497) and on-base percentage (.377). As a senior she was tops in doubles (9), total bases (59) and RBIs (26).
“I think I pitched better when I hit. If I struck out I didn’t let it affect me,” Martinez said.. “Mentally, I’d get mad and channel it into my pitching. (Hitting and pitching) were equal because I did love to hit. I hit in high school all the time. I was just used to hitting, it made me pitch better.”
Martinez commutes about 45 minutes to Brentwood, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville, where she works in the Provider Enrollment Department for Cogent Healthcare.
Softball remains a big part of her life as she gives private pitching lessons and serves as an assistant coach with Smyrna (Tenn.) High. The Lady Bulldogs went 30-11 in 2014 with ace pitcher Makenzie Prince putting together a very Martinez-like season, going 21-7 and also batting .400. Prince is headed to Middle Tennessee on a softball scholarship.
“I told her she has to go and break all my records,” Martinez said.
During her own high school days, Martinez was part of Fairfield’s glory days, twice winning Monticello Empire League Pitcher of the Year honors in 1997 and 1998, the middle of 13 straight years a Falcons hurler won the award. The others were Leslie Rodgers (1992-1994), older sister Carmen Martinez (1995-1996), Alicia Hollowell (1999-2002) and Amber Smith (2003-2005). All went on to play at the Division I level in college and helped the Fairfield win 12 straight league titles and Sac-Joaquin Section crowns in 1995, 2000 and 2001.
What Martinez learned playing in high school and college she tries to share with those she now coaches.
“I’m a pretty strong believer that you play the way you practice,” she said.
Said like a true hall of famer.
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264,or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.