Blue Jays Backstop, Russell Martin, Spends Spring Training Focusing on the Job
The trucks are heading North, the uniforms are unpacked and hanging in the Clubhouse and the players are already back on Canadian soil – all that’s left of Spring Training for the Blue Jays are two exhibition games against the Boston Red Sox at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
It’s fitting then that we turn our focus to Montreal’s favorite adopted son, Jays catcher Russell Martin. While the glare of the spotlights will once again shine down on Martin during these two games in the city he’s called home for most of his 33 years, they won’t be nearly as bright as they were in 2015. Last year, when his father, Russell Sr., played both the American and Canadian national anthems on his saxophone – the instrument he used to earn money to pay for his son’s baseball training, the very training that started him on the path to that moment in Olympic Stadium – the collective eyes of a nation were on Canada’s native son who’d come home to play the sport he loves. That moment was the pinnacle of a media spectacle that followed Martin’s every move since it was announced on November 18, 2014, that he’d signed a five-year, $82 million contract with the Blue Jays after hitting free-agency following two incredibly successful years behind the dish for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But this year it’s different.
With so many other issues and questions for media to focus on during the Blue Jays Spring Training – the contract situation of both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, will Aaron Sanchez end up back in the bullpen or in the rotation, how will the new front office folks gel with the team – Martin has raised nary an eyebrow. And it seems that’s exactly the way he likes it.
Russ is the type of player who laser focuses on the task at hand – he blocks out all of the things that are out of his control, puts his head down and goes to work. And while it might not have been covered by the media the way it was when he was the new guy on the team touting the largest contract ever granted a Canadian major leaguer, that’s just what he’s been doing this spring.
After an off-season punctuated with time spent raising funds for baseball in Quebec, promoting the game and supporting Baseball Canada and some travel that went awry due to the Paris terror attacks, as he told Jeff Blair, Martin spent time working out which included developing a new swimming routine with Paralympian swimming gold medalist Benoit Huot.
“He showed me some techniques and stuff. So I made that part of my program and I feel like that helped me keep my body loose and it really helped balance out my right and my left shoulder so that was something cool that I’m gonna keep doing, probably for the rest of my life,” Martin told Blair.
As reported by Benoit Rioux from Canoe.ca Sports, Huot said that Martin claimed he wasn’t a great swimmer before the pair started working together, but he was a fast learner. Their swimming program, Huot explained, helped Martin focus on the “explosive” activities associated with baseball – like running to third when hitting a triple.
“What he also liked to swim is to work all the small muscles of his body without having any impact,” Huot remarked in the article.
Swimming is known to offer great workout benefits, without stressing the joints, something a guy who turned 33 just a week before reporting for Spring Training in Dunedin should be paying attention to.
There’s a reason pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training earlier than the rest of the players on the team. Theirs is a special relationship that takes more time, and more concentration, to perfect. Martin shared his routine for getting to know new pitchers with Shi Davidi for a recent article in Sportsnet Magazine.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 31, 2016
“I typically like to get the word from the horse’s mouth, so I talk to the pitcher on the bus or on the field—the sooner the better,” Martin said in the piece, adding that, “It can be a really short conversation, it’s not rocket science, and as I catch a guy, I can realize some things.”
Russ got 33 at bats in 13 games during Spring Training games this year, scoring three runs, getting five hits, one RBI and a homer, ending up with a batting average of .152 and .449 OPS. Not a great offensive spring for Martin by any measure. And certainly wildly different from his banner Spring Training with the Pirates in 2014, when in 38 at bats in 13 games, he scored 10 runs, got 13 hits, 11 RBIs and four homers, ending with a batting average of .342 and 1.155 OPS.
Poor numbers aside, he still managed to mash a homer in BP on February 28 that left someone in the parking lot calling Safelight Auto Glass for a new windshield.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) February 28, 2016
But there’s a reason Spring Training stats don’t count. A look at Martin’s performance during the 2015 regular season with the Blue Jays – where in 441 at bats in a phenomenal 129 games, he scored 76 runs in 106 hits, 77 RBIs and 23 homers, (a number he only surpassed in his first three years with the Dodgers) ending with a batting average of .240 and .787 OPS – shows why he has a reputation for being one of the more balanced catchers in baseball. Yep, come Sunday, Russ is going to be just fine offensively.
Additionally – a look at the performance of the pitching staff in Spring Training, and the tough decisions Gibby had to make when putting together to rotation, is a reflection of a catcher’s work as well.
As one of the team’s veteran’s, Martin is also looked to as a mentor, a role he got to play for former Pirates teammate and new Jays minor leaguer Tony Sanchez during Spring Training. He even welcomed Sanchez into his home for the duration, something the fourth overall draft pick 2009 was pretty excited about.
But, he did make Tony work for the lodging just a bit…
A photo posted by tonytwobags (@tonytwobags) on
While the Blue Jays regular season actually kicks off at 4:05 p.m. Sunday, April 3 at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s safe to say that for Russell Martin, it begins today, in Montreal, where for him, it all started. This year though, he’s said, he’s hoping to be able to relax a little more, and maybe even get a few big hits.
*Featured Image Credit: Russell Martin Twitter profile
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Joy Frank-Collins is a Communications professional who got her start writing as a journalist at a daily newspaper in southeastern Ohio. She was born in Reds country, but “found” baseball watching the 1986 Mets win the World Series. A long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan, she added the Blue Jays as her AL team the day they picked up Russell Martin. She lives in Marietta, Ohio, with her family, who all share her passion for baseball. She loves the suicide squeeze, a crisp 6-4-3 double play and catchers. When not obsessing over baseball, Joy likes to work out, travel and drink wine.