By Joseph Staszewski
Steve Martinez needs to go a little further down Metropolitan Avenue now to meet his team.
The Grand Street baseball assistant coach for 11 years and the head man for a season, Martinez had to remember to keep his foot on the gas peddle as he passed Grand Street Campus on his way to his new home at Christ the King.
“It is actually a short cut to go through Grand Street, the back roads,” Martinez said. “I’m always driving by it.”
Martinez, who also spent three years as the Wolves’ junior-varsity head coach, left the Brooklyn school in February to become the head coach at his alma mater.
“I’ve always dreamed about one day taking over that program and trying to build it to where I know it was when I left,” said the 1998 graduate of Christ the King.
He takes over for Greg Modica, who left after three seasons to be an assistant at St. Francis Prep. Martinez’s first practice with the Royals was actually at Grand Street, because of the effects of some bad weather on the fields at Juniper Valley Park. He hopes to play his old school and his brother Melvin Martinez, the Grand Street coach, later this season.
“That was awkward,” he said of his inaugural practice. “The [Grand Street] varsity team waiting for me to finish my practice.”
The move back to Middle Village hasn’t been awkward at all, however. His familiarity with the school, along with his resume as a coach and a middle-school teacher, was a big reason he was hired to try to breathe life back into the struggling program. He was really at ease walking in the building.
“Great combination,” said Christ the King athletic director Bob Mackey. “He’s got experience, he’s coached at a very high level and he’s a teacher and he is a parent… This just kind of feels really good.”
Martinez, who was told the job was open by a fellow alumnus, understands it will take time to get the Royals back to the upper echelon of the CHSAA, where he also looks forward to competing against the man who coached him when he played at Christ the King, Nick Melito, who now coaches at Monsignor McClancy. He believes turning around the program could take getting that one special player, much like current Yankees reliever Dellin Betances helped transform the program at Grand Street.
“It would mean the world to me,” Martinez said. “That’s the main reason I took the job. I know I have to be patient.”
He is excited about this year’s group and said it will be a challenging season, but he can see this group surprising some people as the year goes on. Martinez is expecting a strong year from shortstop Julyan Urena, second baseman Matt Trudden and senior center fielder Garfield Hall.
For Martinez there were still mixed emotions when he first made the jump, since he was leaving a familiar place at Grand Street, which he still passes every time he travels to his new job. However, the joy of the opportunity quickly overtook that. Martinez is happy to be home.
“I’m going back to my alma mater,” Martinez said. “It is going to be my program, the way I want it to be run.”