Jen Martinez hasn’t always been ready.
The senior third baseman and designated hitter knew she wasn’t ready to deal with the rigors of a four-year university and a major softball program out of high school. So she enrolled at Pima Community College and played softball for the Aztecs.
“I’m not very independent,” Martinez admitted. “Schoolwise, softballwise, I gained more experience. Looking back, it was a good decision for me.”
Martinez is the only junior college transfer on the No. 2 Arizona softball team, and head coach Mike Candrea did not sugarcoat his reason why.
“To be honest with you, we haven’t had a lot of success with junior college players,” Candrea said.
From a softball, academic and social standpoint, junior college can be so different from the university experience, he said.
With softball, a major difference is pitching.
Candrea said junior college players may have great offensive statistics on paper, but he is wary of the pitching they faced. Sometimes they may face a good pitcher, but sometimes the pitching is nowhere near the caliber of NCAA Division I pitching.
Off the top of his head, Candrea cites former Wildcat infielder Allison Andrade as a junior college transfer who made a big impact in her short time at Arizona, helping the team to their last national championship in 2001.
But she is the only name he mentions before talking about Martinez.
When PCC head coach Stacy Iveson told Candrea she had a player he would be interested in, he listened.
“With Jen, we felt that she had something to offer,” Candrea said. “I think her best softball is ahead of her.”
Martinez attended Tucson High School and then attended PCC, with its top junior college softball program from 2001-2003, where she earned NJCAA All-American first team honors and was named to the All-Conference first team in 2003. She also led the conference with 15 home runs.
Growing up in Tucson and playing softball naturally made Martinez a huge Arizona softball fan. Many young girls play softball and dream of playing for the successful Arizona program, and Martinez dreamed no differently.
Suddenly, she could see them play practically whenever she wanted.
“I grew up idolizing the team, idolizing the coaches,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed for this. It was a dream come true, to put on the uniform.”
When Martinez finally got a chance to play for the national powerhouse team she had watched for so long, she admits she was intimidated from the first practice. She also wondered if she would ever get the chance to show her ability on a team stacked with high school All-Americans and teammates her age that had two more years of Division I experience.
Martinez moved into Pacific 10 Conference softball, where it isn’t rare to see all eight teams in the conference ranked in the national Top 25.
Senior third baseman Jackie Coburn graduated from high school the same year as Martinez but came to Arizona straight out of high school.
When Martinez first arrived, Coburn said she could tell Martinez was overwhelmed.
“She’s obviously grown from when she first got here. I think she was scared,” Coburn said. “I think for her, Pac-10 and junior college was different. But she’s definitely come into her own.”
Martinez has started in 25 of her 30 appearances this season, usually as the designated hitter.
Martinez does not get much chance to play third base with three-year starter Coburn playing at the hot corner. Martinez is batting .236 with 14 RBIs and is tied for second on the team with six doubles.
Candrea said that she has more power offensively than she consistently shows, but one of her strengths is adjusting to a pitcher as the game goes on.
“She may look silly one at-bat, but later in the game, she has the ability to break the game open,” he said.
With a 4-1 lead in Saturday’s game against Oregon, the Wildcats were in charge, but the Ducks were very much within striking distance, and the Wildcats just got out of a loaded the bases jam in the previous inning.
Martinez was put into the game with the bases loaded in place of junior outfielder Autumn Champion.
“He had told me ahead of time to be ready,” Martinez said of Candrea. “Right when he told me to go in, I was ready.”
Martinez took a ball over the right field wall for her first home run in an Arizona uniform, breaking the game open and giving the Wildcats the 8-1 victory.
“One thing that I’ve been really impressed with is her demeanor. She’s a team player. She’ll handle any role you put her in,” Candrea said.
Whatever the role, she’ll be ready.