Martin's winding road could lead to Majors

Martin's winding road could lead to Majors

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Chris Martin went to McLennan (Texas) Community College in 2005 with a dream of making it in baseball, and options if it didn't come through.

But when his dream and his fallback fell apart, and four years of laboring just to pay bills turned out unfulfilling, Martin turned back to baseball. Almost miraculously, Martin, a 6-foot-7 relief pitcher, has a chance of realizing his Major League dream with the Rockies.

If he didn't sign in pro ball -- the Tigers had taken him in 2004 (18th round), and the Rockies selected him in 2005 (21st round) -- he would go to the University of Oklahoma, and if pro ball wasn't there at the end, he had an exciting dream.

"I really wanted to major in meteorology, and I wanted to chase tornadoes," he said. "I've chased a few, actually seen a couple in person. It's pretty intense. A lot of adrenaline you get."

Instead, Martin suffered a shoulder injury in 2005 that dissuaded the Rockies, who were going to track him all year before deciding whether to sign him, and seemingly ended his baseball dream. He wound up loading trucks for UPS, working (and disliking) working at Lowe's, then rolling fridges and washing machines on dollies for a warehouse called Texas Appliance. He wasn't moving toward meteorology or any type of rewarding career.

"There were times I needed to go to school, but I needed to work and make money and pay the bills," Martin said.

One day while working at Texas Appliance, his boss brought a ball and gloves and wanted to throw. The ball came out of Martin's hand with the old life. And the next day, he didn't hurt anymore. He thinks his body matured.

"When I was younger, I was skinny and throwing as hard as I am now," Martin said. "I don't think the shoulder was able to handle that much pressure or velocity. Over the years I gained weight and put muscle on."

In 2010, Martin signed with the Grand Prairie AirHogs of the independent American Association. The Red Sox saw him, worked him out a couple of times and signed him for the 2011 season. The maturity he learned in the real world helped him deal with baseball's ups and downs.

Last season, Martin began at Double-A Portland and went 2-0 without giving up a run in 12 relief appearances. The Sox called him to Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 3-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 30 relief appearances and along the way discovered a cut fastball that went with his fastball and slider.

The Rockies acquired Martin, 27, and lefty Franklin Morales for infielder Jonathan Herrera during the winter. Now Martin finds himself in competition for a relief role. Should Morales make the rotation instead of being used as a reliever, Martin could be competing with fellow non-roster invitees Manuel Corpas and Nick Masset, as well as prospects Rob Scahill and Chad Bettis, for a right-handed spot.

In 2 1/3 innings in this spring, Martin has given up no runs and one hit, while brandishing a 93-95 mph fastball.

"He's made a great early impression. People are talking about the fact that he's a strike-thrower, he's in the mid-90s, he's got real good angle, is a ground-ball guy -- a lot to like about him," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.

"I had friends that I saw on TV, like Logan Ondrusek of the Reds, who was my college roommate," Martin said. "I was like, I want to be in his shoes. Watching him and all my other friends that I knew, I definitely thought about making it happen."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.