A sharp ground ball is laced by the pitchers mound at Centennial Field. Richie Martin is a half step behind, not getting the best jump on the ball.
Using his explosive speed, Martin is quickly on the ball. He extends his glove hand, plucking the ball from the dirt.
Martin has no time to set his feet. Rather, he rotates his upper body, pulling his right arm as far back as his slender frame will allow. As his momentum continues to carry him to right field, Martin whips a side arm bullet to first base.
By that same half a step, the runner is out, igniting a chorus of applause from the Vermont Lake Monster faithful.
Martin, the first-round pick by the Oakland Athletics out of the University of Florida, is used to the spotlight.
In Florida he was one of the nations top shortstops. In three years with the Gators, Martin hit .284 with 45 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .376, all while proving his defense capabilities.
With the Gators, Martin never had a fielding percentage lower than 93 percent, including a 97.5 percent mark his junior year, while leading the team with 190 assists.
At Bloomingdale Hale School in Valrico, Florida, Martin was named to the Florida All-Region First Team after hitting .438, the fifth highest average among Hillsborough County public schools, culminating his senior season by being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 38th round of the 2012 draft.
In Vermont, the media attention remains present.
As a first-round pick on a roster with eight of Oakland’s first ten draft picks, Martin garners plenty of attention. Over his first four games, Martin was 10-for-19 including a home run, before going 3-for-24 over a six game home stand.
But Martin remains calm. After being drafted by the Athletics, Martin had the opportunity to spend time in Oakland and meet the organization. After working out and practicing with the team, Martin spent one-on-one time with coach Ron Washington, working on ground balls and working in the batting cages.
“One of the things when I was in Oakland that really stuck with me was Ron Washington came out and was helping me with ground balls,” Martin said. “and afterwards he was giving me some words of advice and one of the things he said was don’t panic, you can’t play scared.”
It’s a mantra that keeps Martin relaxed. Despite that 3-for-24 stretch early in his career, Martin realizes it’s just a small sample size of the entire season.
At Bloomingdale High School, a scholarship offer from Florida was the bigger deal, the selection by the Mariners as 1,151st overall pick was just a ‘courtesy’. Martin never intended to go to Seattle, knowing he wasn’t ready for that lifestyle.
“Out of high school I was only 17,” said Martin, who doesn’t even turn 21 until December 22. “One of the reasons I didn’t go in the draft was, I was only 17, I wasn’t ready to live on my own and just play baseball for a living at 17 years old. Now I am. I’ve been to college. I’ve matured. I’m able to handle myself on my own.”
At Florida, Martin was two hours from home, he was in constant contact with his parents and his parents could see him play regularly.
The son of a retired firefighter and nurse, Martin never felt the pressures or expectations to become a pro baseball player. His father played baseball in high school while his mother didn’t play baseball or softball.
His maternal grandfather, Walter Thomas, played in the Negro Leagues for four seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs, hitting second ahead of Jackie Robinson during the 1945 season.
“I don’t want to say it’s expected (to play professionally), but I’d say for me I have no excuse,” Martin said. “I was raised in a nice environment, my parents raised me well. They provided me with education and a good home, so I had no excuse to not be where I am. My parents sacrificed a lot for me.”
As a member of the Gators, Martin was a member of the SEC All-Academic Honor Roll twice, as well as spending two seasons in the Cape Cod League, playing for the Bourne Braves and the Falmouth Commodores.
As a member of the Braves, Martin set a single-season club record hitting .364, good for second in the league while leading the league with 59 hits and 36 runs scored.
By his junior season at Florida, Martin was again attracting big league scouts. Since his days in high school, Martin has been used to seeing scouts at games, dissecting his every move and action.
“Scouts are not really a distraction,” said Martin. “Baseball players, we see that ever since we’re early in high school. You get recruited for college, seen during junior, senior year to potentially go to the pros. They’re everywhere at the Cape and at Florida games, so we’re used to it.”
Used to it he was, and his performance proved it. Martin hit .291 as a junior, leading the team with 63 runs scored and 20 stolen bases, including his phenomenal defense at shortstop.
Come June 8, the day of the MLB Draft, Martin was expected to go anywhere from 15th- 25th overall.
As Martin sat and waited to get the phone call and hear his name called, five shortstops came and went off the draft board, including the top three overall picks.
But at 20th overall, Oakland took the slick fielding shortstop out of Florida.
“It was cool, everyone was really excited,” Martin said of the reaction to being drafted. “There was a lot of emotions, had a few family members there and friends, so everyone was more happy than anything. I wasn’t nervous, more excited about what was going to happen.”
Martin signed following the College World Series, before going to Oakland for a press conference and his tour of the facilities.
Shortly after, Martin flew to Albany, NY, meeting the Lake Monsters for a three game set against Tri-City.
Now on a roster full of high draft picks and talented middle infielders, Martin is still competing for playing time. As a mainstay at either shortstop or designated hitter for Vermont, Martin is hitting .263 for the Lake Monsters with a .337 on-base percentage.
Along with second round pick Mikey White out of Alabama, Martin is playing alongside Trace Loehr, a sixth round pick of Rex Putnam High School in Oregon, and Jesus Lopez, an 18-year old international free agent that the Oakland organization thinks very highly of.
“I haven’t really though of it (the middle infielders on the roster),” Martin said. “We’re just out here playing, do whatever the coaches tell us. We’re competing, but I’m not out here trying to hope he doesn’t do well. I want them to do well. We’re all in the same organization, so I hope they prosper.”
And despite the fact that Martin was the sixth shortstop off the board in the first round, he has no intentions of comparing himself to the players taken before him.
“I don’t compare myself. I think that’s where players get in trouble, they focus on someone else. All you can control is yourself. I want to see them do well. I’m not really worried about how they’re doing, all I can worry about is myself.”
As Martin begins his journey through the minors, he realizes it will be a long one. There will be highs and lows, hit streaks and slumps, but as long as he gives everything he has, there’s no reason for him to panic.
“I want to be known as someone that plays the game hard,” Martin said. “I just want to go out and give everything I’ve got every game. The only thing you can control is the stuff you do. You play well, you don’t play well, so what. Just know you did your best. That’s really all that matters.”
Leave a Reply