Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz
Chris Martin, who thought for a long time his professional baseball career would never happen , can think back to several highlights once it got under way in the American Association although it seems certain he will never forget the day he debuted for the New York Yankees.
The 6-foot-7 right-hander stepped onto the Yankee Stadium mound in the fifth inning Monday, and 17 pitches later had struck out, in order, Toronto’s highly respected trio of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. The last of the trio went down on a called third strike.
Detroit drafted Martin when he was 18 in 2004, but he didn’t sign. Colorado took him the next season out of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, and had 51 weeks to scout him before deciding whether to offer a contract.
What happened in between?
“I got hurt (torn labrum and some damage to the capsule in the shoulder),” he told The Scranton (PA) Times-Tribune. “I thought my career was done.”
It appeared that way, too, as Martin found work at his nearby Lowe’s, then added a second job when UPS offered a better health care package.
Years went by with only occasional play in softball or a men’s baseball league. One day, his boss at his latest job, Texas Appliance, walked in with his catcher’s mitt and a glove for Martin. When things got slow around the warehouse, the boss got behind the plate, and Martin fired fastballs.
When Martin finally tried out for the Grand Prairie AirHogs in 2010, the radar gun lit up. Fastball after fastball, 94 mph. The good ones hit 95. He signed to play in the American Association, won all four decisions (1.95 ERA) and struck out a hitter per inning during his 36.2 innings spread over 13 outings when he Boston Red Sox signed him for 2011.
Colorado traded for the Arkansas native prior to last season, and Martin shuttled between Triple-A and the National League team, where he was a so-so 6.75 for his first 16 major league appearances, and the Yankees bought his contract in January.
Martin told the Pennsylvania newspaper he is focused on the game in a way he never had been before. “Because,” he said, “I know how fast this game can be taken away.”
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION WAS FIRST PRO STOP
While many who make their way from Independent Baseball to the major leagues have been in the affiliated ranks previously, five of the six one-time American Association players in the majors or on the disabled list of the parent clubs when this season started got into their very first professional games on American Association diamonds.
In addition to Chris Martin, the others–all pitchers–are Washington’s Max Scherzer (Fort Worth), Seattle’s James Paxton (Grand Prairie), Miami’s Aaron Crow (Fort Worth), and Texas’s Tanner Scheppers (St. Paul). Arizona’s David Peralta started out as a pitcher in the St. Louis farm system, then converted to the outfield and started fresh for a year and a half with Wichita and Amarillo before the Diamondbacks gave him an opportunity.