Russell Martin was pretty good last season. Not as good as the season before, though. To his credit, he wanted to be better this season, and he really did think about how to do that. So, what happened in 2008? Ken Gurnick: Martin
- Speculation ran the gamut from a hidden injury to a swollen ego. Whenever asked, Martin said nothing really had changed.
But not anymore.
"I understand completely why people thought that," Martin said this week. "A lot had changed in my life. I think it's just part of growing up and maturing. I'm finally just taking responsibility and taking control of everything.
"If you watched me play the game, you couldn't question my desire or intensity. But things like nutrition, my preparation, my rest -- I wasn't 100 percent in those elements."
Martin said he credits his new girlfriend, a model and fellow native of Quebec, with teaching him an organized, grounded way to run his life. And he credits teammate Manny Ramirez with showing him how to prepare for the game, and reminding him how to enjoy playing it.
Martin said he has trained this winter at the API facility in Arizona, along with teammate Andre Ethier and a handful of other Major Leaguers. His goal is to avoid last year's slow start (3-for-29 to open the season), which he said was the result of getting homer-happy, only for the strategy to backfire.
"I came into the season wanting to hit for more power," he confessed. "But I guess I didn't really understand what that meant. I went to the gym to make my muscles bigger and didn't concentrate on flexibility. So I didn't have the same body control and feel.
And what's this about Manny the Great Leader?
- Martin said he's now learned from watching Ramirez and former teammate Jeff Kent to, "save everything for the game."
"This year I'm taking a different approach," he said. "Maybe I'll hit the weights three times a week, maybe do more yoga."
There's something else he learned, especially from Ramirez -- to have a little more fun while playing a game for a living.
"I think we all learned from him, realizing that you don't always have to be stone-faced to be successful," said Martin.
"This guy is smiling and having a good time, laughing it up, and he's hitting homer after homer and driving guys in and really supporting the team and carrying the team to the postseason. It made me realize that you're supposed to have fun in this game. If you have fun, then you enjoy it, and it's going to be a better experience."
It all sounds so wonderful, doesn't it? An organized girlfriend (who just happens to be a model), a wonderful new teammate like Ramirez, and a top-notch offseason training program ... How could that not work?
But of course it hasn't. Not yet, anyway. All of the above was said and written in late January, just before spring training. Today we're nearly six weeks into the season, and Martin's numbers are the worst of his career. Yes, it's early. That power he's looking for, though? It's disappeared. His batting average is right in line with his career mark, his on-base percentage even better. But he's not homered even once this season, and he's not balancing that zero with doubles and triples.
Maybe it's just one of those spring flukes we see every year. But the early evidence suggests that whatever Martin did last winter made him not stronger, but weaker. And at the very least, we've got yet another object lesson in not taking optimistic winter pronouncements too seriously.