Martin refused to give up childhood dream

Right-hander beat the odds, went from a warehouse to the Majors

Chris Martin recorded 14 strikeouts over 15 2/3 innings in 16 relief appearances for Colorado in 2014. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

By Ashley Marshall / MiLB.com | January 7, 2015 10:00 AM

If Chris Martin listened to his doubters, he'd never be where he is today. Both statistically and anecdotally, his story isn't the type that typically has a fairy tale ending. Martin beat the odds.

The lanky Texan was an above-average high school pitcher and a so-so scholar. He was drafted as a teenager by the Tigers, a team with whom he had never spoken, but he was convinced by family and friends to choose college over pro ball.

Twelve months later, the Rockies drafted Martin after his first season at McLennan Community College, but when he injured his shoulder as a sophomore, the organization lost interest and never finalized the deal. Martin left college having been drafted twice without ever signing a contract.

He spent the next three years moving heavy appliances around warehouses before landing with two independent teams and, eventually, the Red Sox. Boston later flipped him to Colorado, the team that had chosen him eight years earlier but was unwilling to gamble on his health.

Fast forward to 2014. On April 12, Martin allowed five runs in an inning of relief for Triple-A Colorado Springs against Round Rock. Two weeks later, with a Pacific Coast League ERA that had barely recovered from the early-season hit, he was jogging out of the bullpen at Dodger Stadium.

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The youngest of Connie and Matt Martin's four children, Chris grew up playing sports and fighting for attention. Sister Crystal, to whom Martin sometimes refers as a second mom, made the All-Big 12 Conference Softball Team as a standout shortstop for Texas A&M and brothers Jonathan and Shannon both were good enough to play baseball collegiately but chose other routes.

"Ever since I was a little kid. I was born into a family that loved baseball," said Martin, who fondly recalls the time he had to go to the emergency room to get stitches after crashing into a fence in his yard playing Wiffle ball with his brothers. "I've played it my whole life, so it had always been a dream of mine. I've always been competitive in anything I do from day one. I wanted to win and if I didn't win, I'd throw a tantrum, throw a fit.

"Being the youngest, I was always having to fight for some attention and getting beat up by my older brothers, stuff like that. We lived right across the street from a baseball field, so there was always baseball."

Martin loved the sport, but it wasn't until his junior year at Arlington High School when he started to realize he was better than many of his peers. He was starting to draw attention, if not for his 6-foot-8 frame then for his mid-90s fastball. The right-hander had heard rumors that he could get taken in the 2004 Draft -- after all, 1,498 players would be picked across the 50 rounds that year -- but he never expected the call that eventually came.

Martin was watching TV when his phone rang on June 8, 2004. The Detroit Tigers had just selected him in the 18th round when a team representative called to tell him the good news.

Martin, then a high school senior, had never expected to go that high, but he turned down the offer to go to college, where he could mature as a person, improve as a player and continue his education.

A year later, the phone rang again on the second day of the Draft. This time, Martin had expected to go early -- not necessarily as a first-rounder but at least higher than he had the year before. But it wasn't until the 21st round when Colorado took him. There was no bonus and the team wanted to delay signing him in what was then known as a "draft-and-follow" pick to get a chance to watch him more before attaching a monetary value to his signature.

As a sophomore at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, Martin injured his throwing arm and the Rockies chose not to pursue him.

So in 2007, with average grades and two Drafts behind him, he latched on with the Fort Worth Cats of the independent United Baseball League located about 20 minutes west of his Arlington home. His shoulder problems resurfaced and doctors recommended surgery to repair a torn labrum and release a tight capsule.

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With rehab expected to take around a year and bills for truck payments piling up, Martin began what turned out to be the first of three manual labor jobs. Over the next three years, he unloaded trucks for UPS, moved refrigerators around a Lowe's warehouse and worked as a utility guy at an Arlington-based appliance store, stocking washers and dryers.

"Maybe that's what I needed, who knows?" Martin said. "Maybe that's the rehab for shoulders now. Either that or maybe tossing a ball around during some warehouse downtime. One day, my boss came in with his gloves and wanted to play catch. We just went to the back and started throwing a ball, messing around, and that's when I knew my arm could handle it. This was right before I went to independent ball in 2010.

"I pitched from July to September in indy ball [with the Grand Prairie Air Hogs] and didn't hear anything, so I went back to the warehouse. Then it was maybe three weeks before Spring Training started, middle of February, I got a call from Boston saying they would like to see me throw in a tryout in Fort Myers. The only downfall to it was that I had to pay my own way to get there. It was a tough decision at the time because I didn't have a whole lot of money, but I went to dad and he got me a ticket and we flew out together."

At $800 a month, the money Martin made from playing professional baseball wasn't close to the $2,200-$3,000 he was making at the warehouse, but he credits that part of his life to helping him get back in the game.

"I didn't expect it at all. I thought I'd play another season with the Air Hogs and see how it went," Martin said. "There were definitely two sides to it. I didn't think I'd get a chance again, but I always had a feeling in the back of my mind that if I could get healthy and get a shot, I'd have a shot."

Following a successful tryout in front of the Red Sox's scouting directors and roving pitching coaches, Martin signed a Minor League contract and was assigned to Class A Greenville. He posted a 6-2 record and 2.55 ERA in 23 games across three levels, advancing to Double-A Portland, where he was still older than many of the other relievers.

Martin split time between the bullpen and starting rotation in the Eastern League in 2012, but he returned to pitching exclusively out of the 'pen in 2013, going 5-3 with five saves and a 2.25 ERA in 42 games between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

"It was tough because I was an older guy -- 24 when I broke in -- and I'm playing with a bunch of 18-year-old kids," Martin said. "It was definitely difficult. I just had to focus on what I was trying to do, and that was to improve pitching so I could move on up. The big thing was that [the Red Sox] wanted to see me healthy. Boston did a great job with me -- they didn't overthrow me and they knew I needed to work back up. They knew I could throw strikes, but they wanted me to develop other pitches and get some experience.

"Once you get into Double-A and Triple-A, that's where it starts to separate itself. In independent ball, you have a variety of guys -- guys that played in the big leagues and guys who have never played in the Minor Leagues. The consistency of it just isn't there like it is in affiliated ball."

Martin was primed to contend for a spot in the Red Sox's rotation as a right-handed specialist entering 2014, but all that changed in a heartbeat the week before Christmas when his baseball career essentially came full circle. Boston traded him and southpaw Franklin Morales to Colorado for third baseman Jonathan Herrera.

"Being in Boston's organization, I never really thought about the Major Leagues because it's a tough organization to crack," Martin said. "I was just trying to pitch well. It would have been nice to make it up with Boston, but I think it all worked out for me.

"I woke up one morning and got a phone call from Boston's farm director [Ben Crockett]. We had talked the week before about how I was going to go up to Boston and be a part of the futures stuff up there and do some charity work and go to some hospitals and stuff like that, so I thought he was going to tell me about that, but he informed me I had been traded. It was nice to be wanted, to have another team want me. It gave me a boost of confidence and motivation to help me win at the big league level."

Martin began 2014 with Triple-A Colorado Springs and did not allow a baserunner in his first four relief appearances. He got rocked for five runs in one inning against visiting Round Rock on April 12, then surrendered two runs on a pair of hits and two walks in one inning in his next appearance three days later.

Martin's right arm and shoulder didn't feel 100 percent, so he was naturally cautious when skipper Rick Sweet called him into his office following a 9-0 loss to Iowa.

"It was pretty shocking, actually. I had had a rough game a few days before and I had a high ERA, so it's not what I was expecting to hear," Martin said of being called up. "The manager called me in -- I was nervous and I had a little arm injury going on -- so he asked me about that and played a little joke on me. He told me he was sorry he had to tell me this and I thought I was getting released or put on the DL, and he said I needed to pack to go to L.A. and I had no idea what I was talking about.

"I asked him if I had been traded again and he told me I was going to the big leagues. My heart skipped a beat and I started to get nauseous. It was an overwhelming feeling. I couldn't dial the phone quickly enough to tell mom and dad that I actually made it. They thought I was playing a joke on them. Then I choked up when I called my brothers and sisters."

Martin flew out the next morning and was available to pitch that night in the opener of a three-game set with the Dodgers. He remained in the bullpen the whole evening but got his opportunity 24 hours later when he was called on to pitch the seventh inning of a 6-3 loss.

It was a moment Martin had been waiting for his whole life, validation that he was good enough to live out his baseball dream. It was a nod to perseverance and a shot at critics who said he was destined for a career, if he was lucky, in independent ball.

"I'd been waiting for that moment since I was 3 years old," Martin said.

"I wasn't expected to do a whole lot. I was an independent ball guy and I didn't have any experience, they said. I had a rough year in 2012 as a starter at Double-A and there were things that people would write in papers and on the internet, and people said I couldn't do it again. It fueled me and my competitiveness came out and I wanted to prove them wrong. Whatever was written, I used it. It made me mad and it helped me. I kept track of what guys were writing. I wanted to prove them wrong, and I'm still working at that even now."

Martin again has his work cut out for him after he was designated for assignment by the Rockies on Jan. 5.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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