South’s Martinez signs with UHD

HARLINGEN — As a three-year starter at second base for the Harlingen South baseball team, Armando Martinez Jr. handled virtually every ball hit to him.

He boasted a .947 fielding percentage, and as a senior this season helped lead the Hawks back to the playoffs for the first time in five years. At the plate this season, he batted .273 with a .422 on-base percentage as a switch hitter. He helped his team generate offense by drawing 13 walks.

Having completed a stellar baseball career at South, Martinez is getting a chance to showcase his skills on the diamond at the next level. On Friday at the South library, Martinez signed an athletic scholarship agreement to play his sport next school year for the University of Houston Downtown Gators, a college baseball program that is just becoming established.

The Gators compete at the NCBA Division II level. They had their best season this spring by going 17-8 with a No. 14 national ranking.

Martinez is projected as a shortstop or second baseman in college.

“This day means a lot, especially for my parents to see that I’m getting an awesome chance to work for a college degree (on scholarship), and also that I can show my talents to people in other parts of Texas (playing college ball),” said Martinez, who plans to pursue a business degree in college. “It’s going to be a great thing.”

Martinez’s parents are Armando Sr. and Esmeralda Martinez. The were on hand Friday for the signing along with additional family members, teammates, coaches, teachers and other school administrators. It was a celebratory atmosphere for everyone present.

“Mando really has done a great job at second base for us, and he’s helped put South back on the map (in baseball),” South coach Chris Gracia said. “We’re super proud of him and also excited because this is the dream for almost all of our guys that play. They dream of playing at the next level, and to be able to see one of our guys do it, it’s something that makes you proud as a coach and makes you happy for him.

“Mando is a very smart baserunner and has that situational awareness,” Gracia added. “He brought a lot of experience to our team, and he really stepped up for us. It’s going to be hard to replace all that experience. He is kind of a quiet guy who is a leader for the team by example.

“We just wish him the best at the next level. With the hard work he puts in, I know he’s going to do well. Hopefully he’s the first of many baseball signees for us.”

Martinez, who started playing baseball around age 5, is leaving behind some great memories of playing for the Hawks.

“It’s a big deal (playing for South),” he said. “I was always thinking of playing for the Hawks when I was younger, and then to do it and play for the team three years as a starter, it’s been the best thing ever. It’s been a lot of fun with all the joy that I had (playing the game) as a kid.

“Now I’m looking forward to going over to Houston,” he added. “Once the baseball season starts it’ll be fine, and the Astros are over there, too.”