LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Tigers brought a slew of young players to face the Braves, keeping many of their regulars back in Lakeland in anticipation of Saturday's Grapefruit League home opener. Victor Martinez rivaled all of them in enthusiasm.
He was already yelling encouragement when the Tigers were taking batting practice on the field at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex Friday morning.
"Victor's the most keyed-up guy on the whole team right now," manager Jim Leyland remarked.
That excitement didn't dampen for the game. After missing all of last season, from Spring Training to the World Series, Martinez wasn't going to take his return for granted.
"There were a lot of things involved to get to this point," Martinez said, "I never was so excited, so happy for a Spring Training game. This was like just being called up to the big leagues."
There was the reconstructive knee surgery last winter, then the rehab work to avoid another surgery during the spring. There was the rehab to try to come back last fall, then the offseason slowdown to focus on getting him fully healthy for this spring.
When he stepped to the plate as the designated hitter against Tim Hudson in the second inning, he felt like a player again.
"Honestly, I'm not really thinking about the knee anymore," Martinez said.
The Tigers usually draw a good share of fans to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex when they visit the Braves in Spring Training, so an applause for a visiting player isn't rare. But when Martinez stepped to the plate for the first time, the appreciation seemed to cross allegiances. Only Triple Crown winner and reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera drew a larger ovation.
Martinez took a hit-by-pitch off his right shin pad and didn't even flinch. He flew out to center in his next plate appearance, then grounded out on comebacker before calling it a day.
He'll be back in the lineup Saturday for the Tigers' Grapefruit League home opener. At some point, Leyland will have to rest him a day, but that probably won't be soon.
"I'm basically going to go by Victor and the trainers," Leyland said.