The New York Yankees locker room is loaded with plenty of star power — Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, Carlos Beltran Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. But thanks to September call-ups, the Yankees locker room is also loaded with plenty of no-name guys — Rico Noel, James Pazos, Jose Pirela, Caleb Cotham and a 6-foot-8 fellow named Chris Martin. The tall Texan native may be an unknown to most Yankee fans, but his story is one that could be a Disney baseball movie someday.
After a promising high school career at Arlington High School, Martin was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 18th round of the 2004 draft. But it was too low and he enrolled at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. Following his freshman season at McLennan, the Colorado Rockies drafted Martin in the 21st round as a “draft and follow.”
He returned to McLennan for his sophomore season, with the Rockies following his progress while deciding whether or not to offer him a contract. He also started to receive interest from big time college baseball programs like the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. But that fall, Martin hurt his shoulder during a game at Navarro Junior College and things changed. He continued trying to throw, but he wasn’t able to make a single toss without sharp pain.
The Rockies lost interest and Martin stopped attending classes out of pure frustration. He tried rest and rehab at the advice of Dr. Keith Meister, the Texas Rangers’ team physician, but ultimately had surgery in August 2007 to repair his labrum and shoulder capsule. After healing, Martin tried out for the Fort Worth Cats of United League Baseball, but his shoulder continued to bark with sharp pain.
By that point Martin was damaged goods, with no contract and a house payment due once a month. So Martin put baseball out of his mind and entered the real world.
“I think I’ve been quoted as saying that’s kind of when I decided to hang it up,” Martin said. “I never thought I’d probably play again, but I always had it in the back of my mind that if I were to get healthy I’d have a good shot at it. “
He found work at his nearby Lowe’s to pull in some extra cash. UPS offered a better health care package, so he picked up a job there also. The double-duty paid the bills, but it wasn’t the kind of career he envisioned.
“I’d get to Lowes really early 5:30- 6:00 in the morning. Work until about 2, have a few hours off and then head to UPS and start at about 5:30, get off there at about 11-12,” said Martin, who worked in the lawn and garden section at Lowe’s and then loaded 53 foot trailers for UPS at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. “Head back home and do it all over again.”
One night, Martin wandered into J. Gilligan’s Bar & Grill for a few beers and he came across Jordan Bostick, an old high school buddy and teammate. Bostick was a warehouse manager at Texas Appliance in Arlington, just off Interstate 20 and he suggested that Martin come work for him.
“I ran into him one night and I was looking for a more steady 40-hour job and he was like, hey I got the perfect job for you,” said Martin, who also spent time working at a pool supply store and Bass Prop Shops. “I went and applied and ended up working for him for two and a half years.”
Martin lifted heavy boxes, stacked washing machines and pushed 650-pound Sub-Zero refrigerators onto dollies for deliveries. His tall frame also made him the ideal guy to stock the higher shelves. After about two years on the job, Bostick had another suggestion for Martin: playing catch during idle time on the job.
The warehouse had aisles wide and long enough to serve as a pretty good makeshift bullpen. It was there, between the rows of refrigerators and dishwashers awaiting sale and shipment that a game of catch morphed into bullpen sessions. Martin went along with it and was surprised when his shoulder did not ache as the sessions continued. But he still wasn’t thinking about the big leagues.
“Never popped in my head,” said Martin, who didn’t pitch in a game from the fall of 2005 until the summer of 2010, limiting his play to slow-pitch softball. “We did a lot of dumb stuff back there messing around, obviously Texas Appliance doesn’t want to hear that, but during off time we’d mess around and he brought them in and it kind of was a fate type of deal I guess.”
In something that he still can’t fully explain, the shoulder healed from rest and perhaps reaching so high to stock those shelves helped strengthened the shoulder. He also believes that eating fast food for lunch every day — adding 30 pounds to his once-slender frame — might have helped.
Whatever it was, Martin was thrilled to be throwing again without pain He was persuaded to join a local men’s baseball league with his brother Jonathan McTaggart, and he dominated. A few phone calls later and Martin was trying out for the Grand Prairie (Texas) AirHogs of the independent American Association. He thought he had a private audition, so he showed up in shorts and a T-shirt.
“The funny thing is I walked in and saw 80 people there and I almost left and I almost left again when they told me it would be $50 for the tryout,” said Martin, whose real interests is in meteorology and chasing tornados. “And then it ended up they said hey don’t worry about it you don’t have to pay because I knew a guy on the team. And then I went out and tried out and Pete Incavgilia, I guess liked what he saw.”
Former slugger Pete Incaviglia was the manager of the AirHogs, and he came away impressed by the velocity that Martin’s lanky body generated. Martin signed a contract paying $800 a month — the first time he was paid for playing baseball — and recorded a save just a few hours later. He dominated the American Association, pitching to a 4-0 record with a 1.96 ERA in 13 games.
Two weeks before spring training in 2011, Martin’s cellphone rang during a shift at Texas Appliance and it was the Boston Red Sox. Incaviglia tipped off a Boston scout, Jaymie Bane, who agreed to have Martin fly to Fort Myers, Fla., to throw in front of Boston officials — with the stipulation that he would be doing so on his own dime.
Martin’s dad bought two tickets and it turned out to be a good investment. Martin impressed Boston enough to get signed for the 2011 season. He spent three years in the Red Sox system and got thrown into a minor trade with the Rockies in December of 2013 before finally making his major league debut at age 27 in April of last year, throwing a scoreless inning against the Dodgers.
Martin compiled a 6.89 ERA in 16 appearances for Colorado, but he showcased a restored mid-90s fastball that piqued the interest of the Yankees. After he was designated for assignment in January, New York acquired the 29-year old for a handful of cash. He impressed the team in spring training and made the Yankees 25-man opening day roster as a reliever.
He was terrific in the month of April, posting a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings. But elbow tendinitis sent him to the disabled list in early May, and he was never really able to regain a role in the big clubs bullpen. He came back as the rosters expanded in September and he is just happy to be sitting in a clubhouse, not a warehouse.
“I never really looked at myself as a guy that worked in a warehouse,” says Martin. “I had to set my mind to I’m a baseball player and I think that helped out a lot and I believe that I deserve to be here. Just continue to get better and hopefully find somewhere and stick.”