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Minor League notebook

For Martin, odd jobs to getting job done

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / July 29, 2011

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Chris Martin’s path to professional baseball wasn’t so smoothly paved. It was pockmarked by several obstacles - huge potholes, actually.

“It’s been a long journey,’’ Martin said of the unconventional route the 6-foot-7-inch reliever with 95-mile-per-hour velocity took the last three years to earn a tryout and sign a minor league contract with the Red Sox. “It’s been a humbling one.’’

When he partially tore the labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder after his sophomore year at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, and it didn’t respond to surgery or rehabilitation, Martin gave up the game. “I thought I was done,’’ said the 25-year-old native of Arlington, Texas.

He returned home to find a job and begin his life anew.

“I started out working for UPS loading up their trucks,’’ said Martin by telephone Tuesday from Frederick, Md., where the high Single A Salem Red Sox were playing. “Then I went and worked at Lowe’s and didn’t like that much, and then went to work for an appliance store, Texas Appliance, in Arlington.’’

Live the dream, he did not.

Martin spent three years outside of baseball, working from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., loading and stocking a warehouse. “You’d get a real workout just from dollying refrigerators around the place,’’ he said. “It wasn’t fun, but it motivated me. It still does.’’

During that time, Martin developed a love-hate relationship with baseball. He had become somewhat embittered by what it had done to his dreams. “For a while, I blamed baseball for the situation I was in,’’ he said. “I had gotten hurt because of it. I’d been playing baseball since I was 5 all the way until I was 21. I thought it was going to take me places, take care of me, give me a life.’’

When it didn’t, Martin’s love for the game flickered. “I still followed it,’’ he said. “I loved the Texas Rangers and all my friends who were still playing kept talking about it.’’

The dream was rekindled when he started playing recreationally in a local men’s league. Luke Prihoda, a former McLennan teammate, pushed Martin to attend an open tryout for the Grand Prairie AirHogs, an independent team in the American Association managed by former major leaguer Pete Incaviglia. “I figured, ‘Well, why not?’ ’’ Martin said.

At the tryout, Martin’s 90-plus velocity was so impressive, the AirHogs signed him to a contract that paid him $800 per month.

It was the first money Martin had ever earned playing baseball, but it was a drastic reduction in pay compared with his warehouse job. With a truck payment and other financial obligations, Martin got by with help from his parents and girlfriend Valerie Liggett.

Although the Tigers drafted Martin out of high school in 2004 and the Rockies drafted him in 2005 after his first year at McLennan, neither signed him to a contract.

It was the AirHogs who gave Martin his first paycheck in the game.

“They signed me and put me in a uniform and I was pitching in the next game,’’ Martin recalled. “I was a little rusty. My velocity was off. It topped out at 93, but there was a guy there with a radar gun who said it topped out at 95.’’

Martin went 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA in 13 games last year for the AirHogs. For a guy who had spent three years away from the game, Martin displayed uncommon command and velocity, which prompted Incaviglia to reach out to Red Sox pro scout Jaymie Bane. Skeptical at first, Bane informed Incaviglia that Martin was free to pay his own way to attend a workout at the club’s minor league complex in Fort Myers, Fla., but made no promises.

When he showed up at the workout and displayed velocity in the mid-90s, “It opened some eyes,’’ Martin said.

The Sox invited Martin to spring training and signed him as a minor league free agent March 15. He remained in extended spring training to work out some elbow tendinitis that had bothered him.

Martin was shipped to the low-Single A Greenville Drive, for whom he made his organizational debut May 2 and picked up a 4-2 win over the Savannah Sand Gnats, throwing 2 2/3 hitless innings while allowing one walk and striking out one.

He went 4-0 with a 2.17 ERA in seven games with Greenville, spanning 29 innings, with six walks and 28 strikeouts before he was promoted to Salem, where manager Bruce Crabbe said Martin’s story reminded him of Jim Morris, whose climb to the big leagues was popularized in the 2002 movie “The Rookie.’’

“I just see what I see now, there’s so much potential there, he’s very intriguing,’’ Crabbe said of Martin, who had 29 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings between Greenville and Salem. It was snapped when he absorbed a 4-3 loss Tuesday night, giving up a pair of runs on three hits over three innings.

“It’s sort of like lightning in a bottle,’’ Crabbe said. “You see a kid like that who’s throwing 95-96 out of nowhere and he’s tall and he’s got good angle on his stuff and he pounds the strike zone.’’

Salem pitching coach Kevin Walker said Martin’s velocity, repeatable delivery, and arm slot, in addition to his work ethic and mound presence reminded him of Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard.

“That’s what they say, that I kind of look like him,’’ Martin said. “I just hope to be able to throw like him.’’

Said Walker of Martin, “He’s hungry. He’s real hungry. And you can tell that hunger is going to feed his success. He’s a prime example of someone not taking this for granted and working his tail off. And he’s making the most of his opportunity.’’

Strong week Ryan Lavarnway and Brandon Duckworth helped Pawtucket sweep the International League’s Batter and Pitcher of the Week honors for the first time since April 24-30, 1994 (Andy Tomberlin and Gar Finnvold). Lavarnway hit .409 (9 for 22) over six games from July 18-24 with four home runs, three doubles, 11 RBIs, eight runs, and a 1.091 slugging percentage. Duckworth went 2-0 over 11 2/3 scoreless innings. He allowed 10 hits and two walks while striking out five . . . Stephen Fife picked up his 11th win for Double A Portland, going six innings in a 5-2 decision at Binghamton Wednesday. It was Fife’s second straight win over the Mets, improving his record to 11-4, the most wins of any Eastern League pitcher.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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