From Box Stores to the Bullpen, Chris Martin's Baseball Comeback Story

From Box Stores to the Bullpen, Chris Martin's Baseball Comeback Story

One of the best stories of the 2014 baseball season has been the resurrection of Chris Martin, 27, a relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies who was only recently a UPS delivery man and a warehouse stockboy. Martin had been a high school star at Arlington High School in Texas, drafted by the Tigers at the age of 17 in the 2004 draft.

Martin elected to attend McLennarn Community College instead, but a year later the Rockies drafted him. He said no again, and stayed in college, but in his sophomore year at McLennarn Martin started having shoulder problems.

Martin recalled to Albert Chen in a must-read story at Sports Illustrated:

That’s when I messed up, after getting injured, and stopped going to class. I was down and depressed about being hurt and not being able to play. Baseball was my life–it was everything, and not having it in my life, I just didn’t know what to do. I fell behind in school, and when Oklahoma and Texas started showing interest, I didn’t have enough credits. Everything was messed up.

The whole scenario left him depressed:

I had friends playing college ball, playing just 10 minutes from where I was and I wouldn’t go watch them because I was feeling sorry for myself, sitting at home or working at the warehouse while they’re playing ball. The thing is, I had the talent. I hate to say it, but I took it for granted how good I was. I wasn’t doing the little things–maintaining my shoulder, putting in the work in the weight room. I regret not taking more time to take care of myself.

Martin only picked up a baseball twice between 2008 and 2010; he made two relief appearances in an Arlington men’s rec league. One of the appearances featured him striking out the side on nine pitches, prompting another player to say, “Dude, I think you had to be throwing at least 82 or 83 out there.” Martin sensed he was throwing in the 90s.

Meanwhile Martin took jobs working for Lowe’s, UPS, Bass Pro Shops, and finally wound up at Texas Appliance. That’s when the magic happened.

In 2010, one of the workers brought a ball and a glove to work. Martin, who is 6’8″, started firing the ball to another worker. Martin was throwing 95 mph and didn’t know it, but others knew this was different; warehouse manager Jed Stanphill confessed to Chen, “I think I still have a bruise in my butt from one of his curveballs.”

Soon after, Martin tried out for the Grand Prairie AirHogs, and was clocked at 95 mph, which got around fast. The Red Sox invited him to spring training, where Martin threw 20 pitches. Martin and his father, Matt went to lunch with Red Sox special assistant Allard Baird and scout Jaiyme Bane, and Baird told Martin, “We’re going to give you a chance, but this is probably your last chance. So make the best of it.” After joining the Red Sox minor league affiliates, where he had a 2.25 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 72 innings in two levels, the Rockies made him part of a deal in which they obtained Franklin Morales from the Red Sox. Martin debuted this year on April 26, threw a scoreless inning against the Dodgers, and has since posted a 4.15 ERA with eight strikeouts over nine relief appearances. Martin told SI, “I’m just hoping to stick around.”

On May 7, 2014, Martin pitched before 110 family members and friends only 10 miles from his childhood home as the Rockies faced the Texas Rangers, and set down the Rangers in order. He said, “That was when it all hit me, that this was all actually happening. Stepping onto that field in my hometown, in front of all those people who stuck with me through it all–it was hard to just take it all in.” He added, “I’m just hoping to stick around.” Back at Texas Appliance, SI‘s Chen points out, every Monday is now a Purple Monday–employees wear Rockies colors.