By: Bob Elliott
CINCINNATI _ Half-way through Year I of his five-year contract, Russell Martin was asked if his Toronto experience was everything he was told it was going to be.
Both president Paul Beeston and general manager Alex Anthopoulos visited Montreal to recruit the free-agent catcher in his home city and made numerous phone calls before Martin agreed to a five-year $82 Million US contract.
“They’re both real good talkers and they both talk a lot,” said Martin with a grin.
Selling points to Martin, besides the fifth year when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs were offering four, was the proximity to his home of Montreal, the easy flight for his parents to Toronto Island airport and being someone young players in Canada could admire.
“It was all true about playing those two games in Montreal, what an experience,” said Martin, who watched his father play the anthem on the saxophone and broke down when infielder Jonathan Diaz gave him a hug “when I most needed a hug” in the Olympic Stadium opener.
And in the second game manager John Gibbons had travelling secretary Mike Shaw round up Martin’s father to make the walk to the mound to remove his son, the all-star catcher from the game.
“They told me how close the Rogers Centre was to the Island airport,” Martin said. “My father has been around a lot and mom too.”
The five American League East teams hit the break with the New York Yankees in first and the Boston Red Sox in last, separated by only 6 1/2 games. The Tampa Bay Rays are 3 1/2 games behind the Yanks followed by the Baltimore Orioles four games back and the Jays 4 1/2 behind (four games behind the Houston Astros for the second wild-card berth).
“I’ve don’t remember anything this close at the break before,” said Martin, who predicted “playoff baseball will start early this year.”
Martin’s Jays were five games over .500 on June 28, one game out of first place. Since then they’ve lost 10 of 14.
“We need to get better defensively,” said Martin.
Do the Jays need another arm before the non-waiver July 31 trade deadline?
“What we have is what we have,” said Martin. “If we get re-enforcements good, if we don’t ...
“We can be better, pitch better, play defence better.”
Martin was asked to rank the three relievers who are on or expected to be on the trade mart: Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, Milwaukee Brewers Francisco Rodriguez and Cincinnati Reds Arodlis Chapman.
“Chapman throws 104 MPH or something like that and KRod has been in closing situations, he knows how to finish a game,” said the former Yankee, ignoring the former Red Sox (Papelbon).
The two Blue Jays, Martin and teammate Josh Donaldson flew from Kansas City to Cincinnati with the American League All-Stars, also known as the Kansas City Royals, who have seven players on the AL roster plus manager Ned Yost and his coaching staff. One bat boy could not get the two days off school.
Martin said third baseman Mike Moustakas stopped by to say hello as did AL manager Ned Yost.
“They were very respectful, we were both trying to stay cool after Sunday’s game,” Martin said.
Donaldson sat on the same plane as all-star catcher Sal Perez, who hit the game-winning single inside the third base bag, past a diving Donaldson in the 12th inning of the wild-card game giving the Royals a 9-8 win over Donaldson’s Oakland A’s in a game KC had trailed 7-3.
Said Donaldson “yeah, I’m trying to forget that play.”
Making his third all-star game appearance, Martin was excited to see his former Yankees teammate Brett Gardner selected to his first all-star game.
“Brett’s not a 6-foot-7 guy blessed with off-the-chart genes, he’s a hard worker,” said the 5-foot-10 Martin of the 5-foot-10 Gardner, “I’ve always had a soft spot for the smaller guys.”
Asked about the youngsters -- three of the eight participants in the Home Run Derby are 23 -- and throughout baseball as every week it seems another youngster with a bright future arrives.
“Kids are training better now, there is better coaching, guys who played are going back and passing on their knowledge to others, and nutrition is better,” Martin said. “The thing is, not only are kids ready now physically, but they are ready mentally too. Now, general managers aren’t as fearful to promote a kid to the majors as they used to be.”
It’s a fast track business.
Martin’s presence at the 86th all-star game indicates he’s on a quick pace to show that his free-agent acquisition was an excellent sign.
Yes, he’s an upgrade over J.P. Arencibia.