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Martin feels right at home in Rangers' bullpen

Arlington native returns to Majors after up-and-down career
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

ARLINGTON -- Rangers right-hander Chris Martin wanted to pitch and play baseball again, but he didn't have the registration fee required to try out with the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs.

"I almost left the tryout," Martin recalled on Friday at a media conference introducing him as the newest member of the club's bullpen.

ARLINGTON -- Rangers right-hander Chris Martin wanted to pitch and play baseball again, but he didn't have the registration fee required to try out with the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs.

"I almost left the tryout," Martin recalled on Friday at a media conference introducing him as the newest member of the club's bullpen.

"There were a hundred guys there. It was fifty bucks for the tryout and I didn't have fifty bucks in my pocket to pay for it."

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Fortunately, Martin knew Luke Prihoda, who was one of the AirHogs pitchers. Prihoda had suggested the tryout, knowing how good Martin was before he blew out his shoulder and spent three years working in warehouses, moving refrigerators and driving trucks.

"I told the lady, I was not going to be able to do this, but I told her I knew Luke Prihoda," Martin said. "She knew the name. She said go ahead and do the tryout."

This was in the summer of 2010 and the AirHogs, 15 minutes down the freeway from Globe Life Park, were managed by former Rangers outfielder Pete Incaviglia. He watched Martin throw his fastball and pulled the 6-foot-7 pitcher aside.

"We need to get you a uniform," Incaviglia said.

The tryout changed Martin's life. Working for Lowe's Home Improvement, UPS and Texas Appliances was over. He was back on a professional baseball path that would lead him to Boston, Colorado, New York, and Japan, and now he is poising for pictures wearing a Rangers jersey in his hometown.

Martin, 31, was born here and pitched at Arlington High before being taken in the 18th round of the 2004 MLB Draft by the Tigers.

"It is a dream come true," Martin said. "I grew up my whole life watching the Rangers, idolizing Nolan Ryan. Driving up today and seeing the stadium ... is a really awesome experience."

Martin did not sign with the Tigers when he was first drafted. Instead, he went to McLennan Junior College in Waco, Texas, and was selected by the Rockies in the 21st round of the 2005 Draft. Again, he didn't sign. Martin went back for his sophomore year and with plans to move on to the University of Texas or Oklahoma.

Instead, Martin came down with a torn labrum in his shoulder and the dream of pitching in the Major Leagues vanished. Dr. Keith Meister performed the surgery, but a subsequent tryout with the independent Fort Worth Cats went nowhere. Martin appeared to be done. The next three years were spent in trucks and warehouses. Athletic glory was limited to slow-pitch softball.

"It has been a blur, a whirlwind for sure, going through what I have gone through," Martin said. "It is definitely a humbling experience ... a huge part of my drive to push myself to get to where I am today. "I always had something in the back of my mind ... seeing guys I played with making their MLB debuts. I'm thinking, man I was right there with those guys. I know I am good enough if I can get the shoulder healthy and figure out a way to get back in there into it. I think I have a good chance."

Video: Martin signs with Rangers after playing in Japan

Martin pitched in 13 games for the AirHogs, going 4-0 with 1.96 ERA. Incaviglia convinced Red Sox scout Jaymie Bane to look at Martin.

The Red Sox agreed, but Martin had to pay his own way to Fort Myers, Fla., in the spring of 2011. His father, Matt Martin, paid for the trip and the tryout was held at the Red Sox spring facility with Bane among the club officials watching.

"It was nerve-racking," Martin said. "All of the front office guys standing behind the cage watching me throw."

The Red Sox were impressed when Martin hit 93-94 mph on the radar gun.

"When he threw, it wasn't even the velocity," Bane told Scott Miller of Bleacher Report. "It was how easy he was doing it, and the angle was he creating. But he didn't even know where to stand on the rubber. There was a suggestion to go to the third-base side of the rubber, and his angle got a little better."

The Red Sox signed him, but with no promises. Bane made it clear that Martin had to make a quick impression.

Martin did. He spent three years working his way through the Red Sox farm system, and then he was traded to the Rockies on Dec. 18, 2013. Martin made his Major League debut on April 26, and he pitched in 16 games for the Rockies that season before being sold to the Yankees.

Martin pitched in 24 games for the Yanks in 2015. The work in both Colorado and New York was inconsistent as Martin was shuttled between Triple-A and the Majors. After two years, he had a 6.19 ERA and was still looking for his first win.

The Yankees released him. That's when Martin decided to go to Japan and pitch for the Nippon-Ham Fighters. It was career-changing move.

"When I first got over there, I struggled a little bit," Martin said. "It was an adjustment period. But I [knew] this was the last straw, you've got to figure something out."

Martin had two outstanding seasons in Japan. He learned to pound the strike zone to get ahead in counts, and then to expand it to get hitters out. He struck out 91 and walked 13 over a combined two seasons and 88 innings, logging a 1.12 ERA and a 0.69 WHIP.

The Rangers signed him to a two-year deal and not to be a spare part in the bullpen. The club expects him to have an impact just as Tony Barnette did two years ago when he came back from Japan.

"I don't want to look back in the past when I didn't do so well at the Major League level," Martin said. "But I felt there were things I did well if I would have gotten the opportunity to stick a whole year and learn a lot more. That's why Japan was a big help. Going over there for two years taught me to slow the game down and prepare me for success over here."

Martin is back home and not driving a truck. The dream lives on in Arlington.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Chris Martin