PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) – A dribbler off the bat of Pirates’ utilityman Sean Rodriguez lands about 25 feet northwest of home plate rolling slowly between the pitcher’s mound and the third base line.
By all accounts, this baseball is in “no man’s land.” It’s a well-placed swinging bunt and a cheap hit that is nice-to-have for a hitter to get every once and a while. Not on Tuesday. Not for Rodriguez.
Russell Martin fires his catcher’s mask off, pouncing from his position with quick-twitch athleticism that you see from a Division I collegiate wrestler. He bare hands the baseball, his back to his target. He pirouettes and on one foot blindly throws to first base. Martin’s body looks completely out of control while making all of these motions – seemingly all at one time, but yet the throw is accurate, Rodriguez is out.
Pittsburgh fans know all-too-well of that signature Martin play. He made that unthinkable play countless times the last two Pirates seasons. If you were listening to the Pirates’ Spring Training Opener on Tuesday, you had to wait just one batter to hear Greg Brown describe a sure hit turned into an out.
However, that play was a sobering reminder for Pirates’ fans. Martin no longer plays for the Pirates. He is now the catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays.
As the most coveted catcher hitting the free agent market, it was the biggest sub-story of the Pirates 2014 season. Aside from their run to a second straight playoff appearance, the next thing on the tip of Bucco fans’ tongues was: Would the Pirates be able to re-sign Russ?
The answer turned out to be an assumed ‘no’ despite the Pirates going as General Manager Neal Huntington put it, “Well beyond our comfort level,” to bring back their backstop.
After getting courted hard by the Pirates and the Chicago Cubs, Martin signed a five-year contract with Toronto for $82 million.
“It was tough,” Martin said of leaving Pittsburgh. “I had so much fun over there. I grew close to everybody and felt like it was a home for me.”
The catcher continued, “But then the Blue Jays stepped up big-time. The opportunity to play in Canada, for my family to be able to watch me play and to be a role model for younger Canadians, it’s a better fit for me overall.”
Despite his departure, Martin said he believes the Pirates pitchers are in good hands with newcomer Francisco Cervelli.
“I was actually relieved,” Martin said. “There’s a guy that can actually do some things defensively. I definitely feel like he can get the job done.”
Martin, who played with Cervelli when he was with the Yankees also injury-riddled catcher, has, “endless energy.”
He also added that Cervelli “plays the game as hard as anybody.”