Drew Martinez – Laredo Lemurs’ Renaissance Man
One of the things that was so interesting about the Renaissance period was that there were people who were true scholars in so many different ways. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was a philosopher, an architect, an astronomer, and a politician among many other things. It was the people who lived during this age that made it such an interesting time because of the diversity of things that they could do.
While baseball was not invented until nearly two-hundred years after the Renaissance period ended (although some trace the sport’s roots back to the early part of the Renaissance), there are those in the sport that are more than just ball players. There are men who are philosophers and scholars about the game. Players who strive to excel in every facet of the sport. The Laredo Lemurs have their own Renaissance Man, and his name is Drew Martinez.
The Game Is in His Blood
To say that Drew Martinez was destined to be a professional baseball player is like saying a cat was destined to chase mice. The son of former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Chito Martinez, the Lemurs center fielder was born in Memphis, Tennessee. The fact that he was born to a former Major Leaguer and the city of his birth would play a significant role in his life.
The oldest of three children in the family, Drew played a wide variety of sports when he was younger, but baseball quickly became that sport he came to love.
“My dad played for the Baltimore Orioles in the Big Leagues, and it is just one of those things where I was around clubhouses, I was just around the game. He never forced me to play it, he allowed me to play as many sports as possible and I enjoyed the game, and the fact that I had the ability to play all year around was enjoyable to me, and that was part of why I loved baseball so much when I was younger.”
What made the sport so much more enjoyable for Drew was the fact that he excelled at it from an early age. He played extremely well all the way through his early years and then went to play in high school at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis. The school is well-known for its baseball program, producing many well-known stars, including Tim McCarver, and this was a golden opportunity for him to improve himself as a player and as a student. It was also the place where he began to see himself playing the sport professionally.
“That is when I got the feeling that I really wanted to do this for a living. It is the kind of school where if you don’t win the state championship it’s a failed season. This was such a great place to play because the players that were there were so talented that they pushed me to get better. The coaches were the same way. They were not only willing to push you on the field but in the classroom as well. They wanted the best out of you in all aspects of your life.”
Drew was highly recruited coming out of high school. He was twice named the Tennessee All-State standout and finished his career at the school with a .400 average, 67-doubles, and 100-stolen bases. With that kind of resume he had his pick of the litter of schools to attend and opted to remain in his hometown to attend the University of Memphis.
He would spend three years there and would absolutely star for the team. In his freshman year he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team after leading the team with a .309 batting average and .392 on-base percentage. He scored 32-runs that season and added nine-stolen bases. It was an impressive season, but only a taste of what was to come.
In his sophomore season, he put up huge numbers. In 58-games he hit an impressive .377 with 62-runs scored and 41-RBI. His season included a .420 OBP and he was named to the All-Conference USA second team. Those selecting players for conference accolades were not the only ones recognizing his incredible year. Drew was selected in the 23rd round by the New York Mets, but opted to remain at Memphis for another year.
His junior season was another huge one, as he finished with a .331 average in 57-games. Drew scored 56-runs and walked 36 times, giving him a .413 on-base percentage. He also added 20-stolen bases and had proven that he was ready for professional baseball. The Los Angeles Angels drafted the outfielder in 10th round and he was off to start his professional baseball career.
Maturing Into Greater Success
Fresh off of his junior season, Drew Martinez headed for the Los Angeles Angels’ rookie league team at Orem in 2011. He had an impressive start to his career, hitting .289 in 39-games in the Pioneer League. With a little over a week left in the season he was promoted to Cedar Rapids where he appeared in nine-games.
In 2012, he started out in Orem again and, once again, he hit well there. In 16-games he hit .286 and was sent back to Cedar Rapids. There he hit .250 in 42-games. It was a solid performance, but the Angels decided, inexplicably, to give him his release.
Looking for a chance to stay in the game, Drew opted to join the Gary Southshore RailCats in the American Association in 2013. He instantly proved that the Angels had made a mistake. In 92-games the outfielder hit .294 with 45-runs scored and 17-stolen bases. His performance helped the RailCats advance all the way to the American Association title series where they downed the favored Wichita Wingnuts to earn the Championship.
Like he had in his second season at Memphis, his follow up campaign in Gary was even better than the first. Martinez played in all 100-games, hitting .358 with 64-runs scored and 62-RBI. His performance earned him a place on the All-Star team.
In 2015, he started the season with Gary but would be dealt to the Laredo Lemurs as the team headed toward the playoffs. As a RailCat he hit .269 in 78-games, but in Laredo he would struggle, hitting just .238 in 20-games. It was a performance well below his standards, but in the post-season he proved to be a real playoff performer. In nine games for Laredo, Martinez hit .412 with 6-runs scored and 4-RBI. In just three seasons in the American Associations he had already proven to be a winner, garnering two titles.
This season he is off to another impressive start. In 60-games, Drew has hit .311 with 13-stolen bases, and 31-runs scored. Once again, he has shown an amazing knack to get on-base, posting a .394 OBP and has walked more times (32) than he has struck (31).
The Scholar and the Philosopher
His numbers are impressive to say the least, and he has proven to be a real asset to any team has played for. If one was just examining the numbers alone it would be a pretty impressive career already for the 27-year-old. However, while his baseball skills are amazing, it is the character and scholarly approach to the game that has really separated Drew Martinez from most that one will come in contact with in the game.
Of all the sports that a person could play, baseball may be the most taxing mentally. Yogi Berra famously quipped that baseball is “90-percent half mental.” The quip was intended to show that it takes a great deal of your brain power to excel in the sport, not only because of the mental grind of preparing and playing nearly every day for four, five, or six months, but also because it is the greatest one-on-one showdown that sports has to offer.
This is one of the most appealing aspects of the game to Drew Martinez, and is one that he enjoys fully. The contest of wills and ideas between pitcher and hitter is the ultimate challenge, and this is further enhanced by the fact that in the American Association the pitchers on a team in May could very well be an entirely different group in July.
“It’s a cat and mouse game, and it’s how good I can be and how quick I can make adjustments that not only help me but also help my team grind it out. Every day is a grind and no day is an easy day. Some days are better than others, but I enjoy it. The quick turnover has always been that way and I enjoy that I have to figure out new guys all the time.”
It is the mental aspect of baseball that Drew loves most, but he enjoys it because his attitude about the sport is one that allows him to enjoy the game. He is taking nothing for granted. He knows his time on the diamond could be limited, and so he is simply sitting back and enjoying the ride.
“The mental game is a part of the game I have always enjoyed. I am playing a kid’s game and I am 27. I can’t really say I’m not fortunate. I can’t say I should have more. I am fortunate to have what I have, and I take it one day at a time. I know I can’t play forever, and I will miss it when I can’t play any longer, so I am going to enjoy it while I can.”
Many players talk about how they are playing a kid’s game and how they are just happy to still be playing baseball, but the daily grind of the sport wears on them over time and soon they are not really enjoying it at all. This is not the case for Drew Martinez. It is easy to see that he is totally loving playing baseball. There is rarely a time when you don’t’ see a smile on his face, and he adjusts to the daily grind of baseball maybe better than anyone else you will meet. A fact he credits to one person – his dad.
“He’s someone who really understands the everyday grind. The struggles you have when you play because no one is at the top of their game all the time. It’s a game that will humble you quickly, and he knows that. He knows when to talk about the game and when not too. Most of the time when I talk to him he doesn’t really talk to me about the game. He understands that I am here every day and so I don’t want to talk about this too much. He gets that.”
Chito Martinez has done a lot to instill values and ideas in his son about the game, and it has paid off greatly. Drew is someone who focuses on all aspects of the game. If there is a way to improve his skills or his mental toughness he will take the time to learn from the success or failures of others.
“Listening can be the biggest tool available to you in this game. If you are going to succeed you have to take advantage of people who have been there and have done it. Pick their brains no matter who they are. I have been playing this game for 24 years and I am still learning a lot. I take the time to listen and learn because that is the only way I am going to get better.”
Two Lessons of Success
Many players in sports develop a strategy on how they will succeed, and Drew Martinez is no different. He has developed two primary regimens that have helped him to succeed on the field.
The first of these is his commitment to the weight room. There are few, if any, that you will come across in baseball that preach lifting weights as such an integral part of their game. Maybe some power hitters will push this ideal but, for a speed guy like Drew, this seems like the ultimate oxy-moron. However, his philosophy on why this is so important makes perfect sense.
“I think everything starts in the weight room; from the mental challenges in the weight room to being as strong as possible. It’s what you are willing to put yourself through to be able to succeed on the field. It’s the work, the pain you will do that correlates to the field. It all works together as one.”
He is quick to point out that “hard work does not go unnoticed,” and this shows in his dedication to the weight room. It also shows in his approach to the game. Drew is realistic about how well he will do at the plate, but he also understands that if he is not getting it done with his bat then he has to find other ways to help his team win.
“Sometimes you put the bat the ball and you get out. Sometimes you feel like you can get a hit every time you hit the ball. Other times it feels like the gloves are huge everywhere you hit it. You come to realize that. You also realize that your offense is not the only way you can help your team. I have come to the point of thinking that if I am not getting a hit then no one is getting a hit. But also at the same time, the ways you play defense and the way you make plays on the field correlates to how you can help your team win.”
It is easy to take your lessons and stick with them when you are doing well, but when you are struggling that is when the truth of what you believe comes out. Drew understands this well, and proved his belief in his skills and his philosophy when he was traded last year.
“When I came to Laredo last season I struggled, but I kept working on it and working on it, and come playoff time everything fell in for me. That is why I think being mentally there all the time really helps. The more frustrated you get the more you try to get out of your normal ability. Staying within yourself is a big thing and I think I stay within myself really well, not trying to do too much. I like to stay calm, stay relaxed, have fun.”
A Recognition of Why He Is Succeeding
The lessons he has learned and the approach that Drew Martinez takes to the game have helped him to become one of the top players in the American Association. With two championships in three years, he has shown that he can help his team win, and that he has the presence to help lead his club.
His dedication to his craft is one of things that makes him such a good baseball player, but he recognizes that there is one group of people that have really helped him to reach the level of success he has attained.
“My dad and my mom. They are big. My dad really understands. My mother has been there from day 1. She understands the game, she’s supportive of me. It is one thing to say that they are your parents so they should care. It’s another thing when they show it. You see it. It makes it fun to play the game.
“I have a brother and a sister – the same way – very supportive. My family is very family oriented. They are my biggest role models. They encourage me when I am struggling. When I do well they expect it. I am so glad that I have a family like that and that they are as family oriented as one could ask for. Those four have been the biggest role models all the way around.”
He has greatly benefitted from having a father who understands exactly how hard the game can be to play, especially when things are not going his way.
“You can’t get too down and you can’t get too high in this game. Luckily, I have a father who has been there and really understands what it is like. He has passed along to me how it goes at times and how it should feel and it makes it easy.”
With the blood lines, support, tutelage and hard work that the Lemurs center fielder has put in, it is no surprise that he is having such great success. This season he is producing at the plate and in the field once again, and he has been a key to the success of the Laredo Lemurs as they are competing for the American Association title.
Stephen Greenblatt once said, “It became possible – never easy, but possible.” Drew Martinez is demonstrating that the possibilities that his family gave him can be reality with a lot of hard work. It sure has not been easy, but the 27-year-old has made himself a true Renaissance man in the way that he approaches the game, and he did it all with a smile on his face.
Featured Image Courtesy of Betsy Bissen
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA