Flying solo, Martin in stellar company
Dodgers' lone All-Star compared to franchise's great catchers
NEW YORK -- Russell Martin admittedly is "feeling a little lonesome" in Gotham.
"It's kind of sad -- I'm the only guy here" from the Dodgers, the All-Star catcher said, grinning.
He was seated in a midtown hotel on Monday afternoon, representing Los Angeles and his native Canada while responding to questions focusing primarily on the history of Yankee Stadium and the proud tradition of the Yankees. The All-Star Game on Tuesday night will represent Martin's debut in the sport's cathedral, in its final season on the historic Bronx grounds.
While no franchise's tradition can match that of the Bronx Bombers, Martin is part of another impressive lineage even if he's just, as he put it, "getting started" at age 25.
Since Roy Campanella, coming right behind Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn, integrated his position in 1948, the Dodgers have had a succession of brilliant receivers: John Roseboro, Steve Yeager, Mike Scioscia, Mike Piazza and now Martin, the pride of East York, Ontario, and Montreal.
"There are some names there that have done a lot, had great careers," Martin said. "I feel like I have a long way to go before I can be compared to all those names. Maybe, when it's all said and done. ..."
It all began with Campanella, the first African-American star behind the plate. A three-time National League MVP, Campy set the standard for all those who would follow in a Dodgers uniform after the franchise moved west from Brooklyn.
"You can't put my name and his name in the same sentence," Martin said. "What he did was unbelievable. It's something I can look up to. It's a good objective, to try to follow someone like that. But as far as achieving what he achieved, that's tough."
A starter for the National League last season, Martin was selected as a reserve, in support of Cubs rookie Geovany Soto.
Martin is batting .294 with 10 homers and 45 runs batted in, but catchers with his talent and leadership are always more valuable than any numbers can quantify.
"He's phenomenal," said Braves catcher Brian McCann, the third NL receiver on Colorado manager Clint Hurdle's NL roster. "He's one of the best at throwing out runners, he can steal bases, he walks at a high rate, gets on base, hits for power ... there's nothing he can't do. He does everything, the total package.
"It's a fraternity we have with catchers. The grind a catcher goes through, no one else can understand it except for other catchers. Geovany Soto is doing an unbelievable job for the Cubs, and I'm just glad to be part of this team with him and Martin."
Martin believes he will benefit from the experience of his All-Star Game debut in San Francisco last year, when he went 0-for-3 in the NL's 5-4 loss.
"I'm enjoying it a lot more," he said. "I think I'm going to be able to relax and have fun. I won't get booed -- I got booed in San Francisco."
That, of course, was nothing personal. Dodgers, even before Campanella, have a history of getting booed by Giants fans.
Martin said his focus is on helping the Dodgers make a second-half charge and claim a postseason assignment in the Mild, Mild West. They came to the break three games below .500 but only one game behind front-running Arizona.
"The main goal is making the playoffs, no matter how you get there," he said. "Once you get there, you start on the same level as everyone else. The main focus is not really what our record is going to be -- it's what we need to do to win this thing.
"We're right in the middle of it, even though we haven't played our best baseball. The time is now. Our team's had some ups and downs, but the main thing is we've got the talent and the pitching. We just have to put it together. It's time to get serious."
Martin feels manager Joe Torre has had a positive influence in his first season in Los Angeles after directing the Yankees to dynastic heights.
"He has a calming effect on people," Martin said. "He's always well-prepared with a reason for what he's doing. I've learned a lot. It's easy to learn watching a guy like that."
Asked if he'd like to make this Midsummer Classic trip an annual affair, Martin smiled.
"As far as being here every year, I hope it's going to happen," he said. "But it's tough. A lot of guys here are perfectionists and want to keep getting better."
One highlight of his first trip to Yankee Stadium, Torre told him, would be a trip to center field, to Monument Park.
"Every ballpark has a different history," Martin said. "This year it's Yankee history, the House That Ruth Built. It's definitely going to have a different vibe than San Francisco."
If he's invited to St. Louis for next July's bash, Martin hopes to bring a few teammates with him.
"I wish some of my guys could be here," he said. "I'll grab some T-shirts and bring them back to them."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.