"When you live in a totalitarian society, those are the little victories," he tells us. The result: His parents shipped him alone to Florida before he went too far. There, he used sports to fit in. "Hitting a line drive or trading elbows under a basket," he says, "makes you like everyone else."
Now, with the congressional GOP in the minority, Martinez is using those experiences to chart a comeback. "We need to be on the same team," he says, joking that he should get some team jerseys for the Republicans. To show the GOP is different, he says he wants to "improve our brand."
That means going back to the basics of Reaganism "while understanding that times change." Next: Build consensus on key issues like immigration, spending, and the war. "I hope," he says, "that I will be able to bring some cohesion to our message so that we speak with one voice."
And being Cuban American, he adds, is a plus: He feels he represents "the new American spirit" and diversity. "You know the most common name in baseball is not Smith, not Jones," he says. "It's Martinez."
By Paul Bedard