FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA

Sports

Fairfield grad Martinez headed to MTSU Hall of Fame

By From page B1 | June 11, 2014

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.

  • Martinez still holds the school records for career strikeouts (907), victories (75), shutouts (35) and earned run average (1.45), single-season records for strikeouts (273, she has the top two and four of the top five) and ERA (1.18, she  has the top three), and single-game records for strikeouts in a game (tied at 15) and RBIs (tied at six).
  • She finished her playing days as the record-holder for career appearances (133), games started (115), innings pitched (818 2-3), complete games (97) losses (50) and consecutive scoreless innings (27), marks that have since been surpassed.
  • Martinez led the team in wins, losses and strikeouts four straight years, ERA, innings pitched and games started three straight years, and threw three of the school’s 10 no-hitters, including a 1-0 perfect game over Florida International in 2002.
  • There were also loads of postseason honors. Martinez was the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year in 1999 and the OVC Pitcher of the Year in 1999 and 2000. She made the OVC first team in 1999 and 2000, and was the OVC tournament MVP in 2000. After the school moved to the Sun Belt Conference in 2001, Martinez was named to the all-SBC first team in 2001 and second team in 2002. She was conference Pitcher of the Week three times and named to the all-time SBC team in 2006, four years after playing her final game.

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.

Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer is a 1985 graduate of Brigham Young University. The Suisun City resident has been with the Daily Republic Sports Department since 1989 and has served as sports editor since 2007. He and his wife Jackie have four children.
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