By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI, Fla. – The decision was taken out of Russell Martin’s hands.
Declining to insure the Toronto Blue Jays catcher for the World Baseball Classic, Major League Baseball made it next to impossible for Martin to represent his home and native land at the prestigious tournament.
Finding a way to contribute and give back to the national program – travelling with the team to Miami, listed as an assistant coach and offering guidance, assistance, and helpful information to his Team Canada teammates and coaching staff – the 34-year-old backstop is trying to enjoy his time with the squad, despite the situation at hand.
“It’s a respect thing for me,” Martin said of Baseball Canada. “I respect the people and it’s as simple as that … they’re part of my process, part of my evolution as a person. I spent years when I was younger with the Baseball Canada team and it was fun then and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be fun now.
“I definitely do wish I had an opportunity to play and share that energy with the guys, but I’m making the most of the situation that I’ve been dealt. On a personal level, I’m not super happy but I’m putting my personal stuff aside and trying to be here for the team. If I can help somebody feel prepared, then the team is better.”
Many of the players with the squad at Marlins Park have been leaning on and learning from Martin, whose influence has extended well beyond the field even in just the short time the team has been together.
“I’d love to have him in the lineup,” Team Canada shortstop Jonathan Malo said. “It’s a tough situation, but we’ve got to deal with that. But he’s here to help us out because he knows those guys more than we do, as far as throwing to hitters and teaching the pitchers how to go against them. It’s good to have him on our side, and he’s going to be a big plus for us, even if he’s not playing.”
The Classic is certainly not the first time Martin has taken on a mentoring role with a group of younger and less experienced Canadians. Since 41-year-old former Cy Young award winner and current Team Canada reliever Eric Gagne took the catcher under his wing when they were both in the Dodgers organization, the Quebecois battery have continued a pipeline of assistance to the next generation.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Martin said. “There’s not a large pool of baseball players who have come from Canada and Quebec. I’ll do it for the guys who are from my neighbourhood, and I take care of the guys in my community. It’s a good environment; it’s a good cycle and we want to keep it going.
“There were times in my career where I remember being treated nicely by veteran players, and I remember the ones who didn’t treat me so well. I feel like I have the savvy to not repeat the same mistake that somebody else did, and I’m not going to do the same thing to the kids when they grow up.
“I’m going to try to be the good teammate, the one that I appreciated. I try to filter out the bad and keep the good, and then try and transfer that down to the younger guys, and hopefully it helps them out in a way or makes them feel comfortable. I just feel like it’s the right thing to do.”
After two seasons of wearing a maple leaf on his jersey with the Blue Jays, suiting up in red and white has been special for Martin, who got his start with the program as a teenager.
“The Baseball Canada organization fundamentally has people running it who are really good people,” he said. “So I feel the values trickle down onto the coaches … Because it’s not a large pool, a lot of guys come up together and they start having these bonds and relationships. It’s a tight-knit group. It’s like a family, it really is. It’s unlike most other organizations.
“The common denominator is that guys appreciate each other. There’s a team chemistry. It’s a vibe of togetherness. You win together, you lose together, you’re just together and when you’re together you feel stronger. That’s what I feel when I’m wearing the uniform.”
Experiencing a different side of the game from the dugout, and helpless to what has been happening on the field in each moment – Canada losing its first two games of the WBC to Dominican Republic and Colombia – the native of Montreal has relished the opportunity without focusing on the outcome.
“We’re going to win together, we’re going to lose together,” Martin said. “But there’s that trust. I know each and every single guy in that room is going to give everything they’ve got, for one another, for their country, for whatever they’re doing it for, they’re giving their best effort. I know how hard this game can be so I’m just going to appreciate the good and the bad …
“And if I can influence somebody in a positive way I feel like I’ve done something right, because at the end of the day it’s not what you do for yourself, it’s how you impact others.”