Last week, I made a return trip back to spring training camp in Florida. Two months after my previous visit, things were much, much calmer and quieter. The major leaguers are long gone, their clubhouse repopulated by A-Advanced hopefuls.
One group remains, however. Minor leaguers deemed not ready to join a full-season club participate in what is called extended spring training (EST).
As Dennis Green might observe, it is what you think it is: a longer version of regular spring camp. A typical day consists of drills in the morning and a game against external competition in the early afternoon. Like Groundhog Day, it repeats over and over, with the exception of Sundays off.
Upon arriving in St. Louis Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida, one player I immediately looked for is a 19-year-old Dominican already being compared to a young Pedro Martinez.
His surname is also Martinez - Carlos Martinez - but he is not a relative of the future Hall of Famer.
This youngster dominated the Dominican Summer League in 2010, but could not play in the US last season due to visa issues since resolved. Martinez is slight of build, listed at a generous 6-foot, 160 pounds, but consistently delivers the ball in the upper 90’s with an almost effortless motion. Add a quality curve and changeup plus pinpoint control and you have a player ready for a bigger stage.
Instead of sending Martinez to A-ball to start the season, the Cardinals kept him behind in EST to continue his acclimation to baseball and life in the United States.
I quickly learned why I could not locate Martinez in camp last Friday. Martinez received the call he had been waiting for - to join Class A Quad Cities of the Midwest League. In his US debut the next night, he did not disappoint, throwing four innings of no-hit ball, walking just one and fanning six.
Though a long way from the majors, Martinez’ progress to date was most familiar.
In the 2008 film Sugar, the main character, Miguel “Sugar” Santos, was also a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher from a poor, but close-knit Dominican town. Further, just like Martinez, the fictional Santos was assigned to Quad Cities for his first taste of American ball. The team’s real-life ballpark in Davenport, Iowa even served as the film’s setting.
Truth be known, my first night home from Florida, I slipped a copy of Sugar into the DVD player and became so engrossed in it that I forgot to join a scheduled conference call with my Mastersball brethren.
As aficionados of the game, we usually focus on the top one percent – those like Pedro who “make it.” Even in those cases, the young men still deal with considerable adversity as they chase their dreams. Many things we take for granted must be learned – sometimes the hard way.
It is way too soon to know if Carlos Martinez will grow into Pedro Martinez or become a soon-to-be forgotten Sugar Santos, but either way, I now have a much deeper appreciation for the efforts expended in trying.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.