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Thursday, September 14, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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BETWEEN THE SEAMS

The well-traveled Dave Martinez

Bloomberg

NEW YORK - When the season is over, Dave Martinez's main objective will be finding a way to repay his wife for her patience and sacrifice.

Chances are his thank-you gesture will require a minimum of travel.

Martinez tied a big-league record in August when he appeared for his fourth team in a season. In a four-month span, he played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and his latest employer, the Toronto Blue Jays.

As tiring as the odyssey has been for Martinez, it's been considerably more trying for his wife, Lisa, and their four children, who followed him every step of the way.

"My wife's birthday is coming up," Martinez said during a series at Yankee Stadium. "If I don't give her a nice vacation or a ring or some diamonds or something, it's going to be a long winter."

Martinez is one of eight players this century who have appeared with four teams in a season. The last player to complete the tour was Dave Kingman, who played for the New York Mets and Yankees, San Diego and California in 1977.

Kingman hit 442 home runs in 16 seasons. The six others - Frank Huelsman, Willis Hudlin, Paul Lehner, Wes Covington, Ted Gray and Mike Kilkenny - were not nearly as prominent.

Martinez's Toronto teammates see him as the embodiment of a lifestyle that's not always as glamorous as it appears. When duty calls, stability suffers.

"Ballplayers are used to living out of a suitcase," said Blue Jay catcher Darrin Fletcher. "The only thing that's certain in this business is the uncertainty."

Low-key professional

Martinez isn't even the only Blue Jay who has crisscrossed the map this year. Second baseman Mickey Morandini, who has played for Montreal, Philadelphia and Toronto, is one stop short of Martinez's record.

"I don't want to tie him," Morandini said. "Hopefully I can just stay here for the next three weeks."

Martinez, 35, has parlayed a well-rounded assortment of skills into 15 seasons in the majors. He's a polished defensive outfielder with a strong arm, a career .276 batting average and 170 stolen bases. He's also professional and low-key enough to blend instantly in almost any clubhouse.

Martinez had hoped to finish his career in Tampa, his offseason home, after signing a three-year, $5.5 million contract with the team before the 1998 season. But the Devil Rays sent him to Chicago for reliever Mark Guthrie on May 12. Guthrie has since been traded to Toronto.

Martinez spent 28 days as a Cub before Manager Don Baylor called him into his office and told him he was going to Texas as part of a three-way trade involving the Florida Marlins.

Two months into Martinez's stay with the Rangers, Manager Johnny Oates pulled him aside in a dugout tunnel after a game and told him he'd been traded to the Blue Jays.

Contenders

In Toronto, Martinez has filled a major void as the replacement for injured outfielder Raul Mondesi. Martinez reached base in 27 of his first 29 games with the Blue Jays and put up a career-high 21-game hitting streak.

Best of all, Toronto is still in contention for an American League wild-card spot. Tampa Bay, Chicago and Texas, the three teams that traded Martinez, all are in last place.

"I could have come here and said, `The heck with it - this hasn't been a very good season,"' Martinez said. "But I've taken this as an opportunity. I told myself, `Here's a team in contention that really wants me.' "

After renting apartments in downtown Chicago and the Dallas suburbs, Martinez is taking the convenient route in Toronto. He's staying in the hotel at SkyDome, in a room that overlooks the Blue Jays' playing field.

With the start of the school year, Lisa Martinez and the couple's four children recently returned home to Florida. Dave Martinez had hoped his family might join him this weekend in Chicago for a series with the White Sox, but it wasn't to be.

"My wife told me, `I love you, but no thanks,' " Martinez said. "She's done flying for the year."

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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