Paul Martinez had idols growing up, people who helped mold his outlook and shape his life.
They included father, Julian. He stocked shelves, placed orders and dealt with customers as a grocery store manager in downtown Sacramento. And there were the coaches that left an impact.
One of them was Terry Rasmussen. He was a larger-than-life figure at La Sierra High School in Carmichael in the early 1980s. Fit enough to beat any teenager on campus in a pullup, pushup or bench-press competition, Rasmussen also rocked a hearty head of perfectly coiffed hair – and still does.
Martinez is the fifth-year baseball coach at Oakmont, steering another powerhouse in Roseville. He is on the brink of making Sac-Joaquin Section coaching history, a champion at three different programs. His father still attends games. Rasmussen occasionally comes too, but he is forefront for Martinez.
“I looked up to Terry Rasmussen,” Martinez said. “He’s a good man, a solid dude. When I was in high school, I thought, ‘Man, I’d love to be like Terry. He’s just cool.’”
Since 1992, Martinez has been that sort of cool, unflappable yet unyielding in how he designs baseball programs. He wins wherever he goes, hanging up championships at five different regional high schools since 1991 with assistant-coaching stops at Cosumnes River College and Sacramento State sprinkled in.
Martinez could become the first area coach to hoist a blue section baseball banner at three different schools. He won two section D-II championships at San Juan in the 1990s, inheriting the program from another mentor in Bill Richardson, and then elevating it. Martinez also won one in 2013 at Del Campo, the school top-seeded Oakmont will face Monday at American River College in the Division II finals.
That quite a résumé for a man whose expressions and principles never change. He is this region’s version of Cool Hand Luke.
“That’s really incredible work,” Rasmussen said. “It goes to show that Paul is highly successful wherever he goes. It’s more than just coincidence that it happens.”
Rasmussen added, “The thing that sets Paul apart is he’s an extremely hard worker, all the time: clinics, fundraising, helping kids in baseball and in their personal lives. And his biggest strength is his calm, and he knows the sun is coming up tomorrow. He doesn’t dwell on a loss. What I respect most about him is that he wins with dignity and loses with dignity. Never throws barbs or bad mouths anyone.”
Rasmussen laughed and added, “I don’t know about being that cool. But Paul is cool. Just look at him.”
To look at Martinez a decade ago was to see a 6-foot-4 fellow who was packing on too many pounds. The coach didn’t like what he saw in the mirror, so he did something about it.
He got hooked on the gym – lifting, conditioning, running – and sometimes worked out with his old friend, Rasmussen.
“Here I was teaching weight training every day at school, and I thought I might as well do it,” Martinez said. “Funny thing is, the more I got into it, the better my classes were. Kids were lifting with me every day, and then it became part of my daily life.”
Martinez has perhaps his finest team now, a close-knit bunch that impressed him as far back as their freshmen seasons. He is asked by former players who frequent games, some in their mid-40s now, how long he will continue the grind.
One thing is certain: The area needs classy winners like Martinez. Coaching at this level is a year-round meat grinder. It churns through coaches. Parents run coaches off with volcanic blasts of unrealistic expectations.
Martinez never wavers. He just keeps working.
“I’m only 54, in the gym every day, throwing batting practice every day, and feel great,” Martinez said. “I have a fun, a great time. It gets me out of bed every morning. I love competing. I love being a head coach, helping kids. Yeah, it’s tiring, but it’s the greatest sport in the world.
“I don’t know about having the longevity of (86-year-old) Guy Anderson (of Capital Christian), but I think he’s a miracle. Just in awe of how well he moves, how alert.”
Martinez said winning is a byproduct of “doing things the right way, working hard, holding each other accountable.”
What’s changed in kids over the decades, the coach said, is the awareness of opinion. Social media affords people – anonymous or otherwise – to offer such opinions.
“Kids care what other kids think of them, and they don’t want to disappoint each other,” Martinez said. “I’m glad and fortunate for the success we’ve had over the years, but it’s the kids and assistant coaches. We get too much credit, good or bad, as head coaches.”
Oakmont (29-3) is paced by brothers Greg Nichols, a shortstop/pitcher, and ace T.J. Nichols, who has committed to Sacramento State. Combined, the brothers are 17-2 on the mound. Kai Peterson is 9-1.
Martinez also has high praise for team statistical leaders such as Carson Blatnick, Andrew Paolini and Bryce Sidler.
“It’s a great group, friends on and off the field, a and we have a good culture,” Martinez said. “I’m more proud of that than anything.”
Kids grow up as the pride and joy of their parents. Martinez gets emotional talking about his parents, especially his mother, Dawn. She has battled pancreatic cancer admirably. How can Martinez have a bad day when thinking of what his mother has endured?
That perspective drives him, humbles him.
“She’s the toughest person I know,” Martinez said. “Mom has gone through chemo, surgeries, all of it, and she’s still with us, still fighting it. All the scans have been good lately, but she’s living every day as if she has a hang over: Headaches, and all you want to do is lay still and through it. She’s grinding through it and she’ll get past it. Just really proud.”