GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Not even a 46-degree rainy day could wash the smile off Leonys Martin’s face. It’s been six months since Martin was placed on the injured list, but he wasn’t battling some routine injury. The 30-year-old was fighting for his life.
Fast-forward 197 days to Friday at the Indians' Spring Training facility in Goodyear. Martin is back to full strength, standing in the batter's box against Rob Kaminsky in preparation for Cactus League games to get underway on Saturday. For every hit he records, he smiles and laughs. After each swing and miss, he smiles and laughs. As the wind picks up and rain falls harder, he smiles and laughs.
“You know we talk about injuries all the time. This wasn’t an injury,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “This was life-threatening. Now, [six] months later, he’s back on the field, playing the game he loves. It’s fantastic. He should be having fun.”
For many Major League veterans, arriving at Spring Training is nothing more than starting preparation for the upcoming season. For Martin, it was nearly a miracle.
“When I got to my locker, I said, ‘Wow, this is my stuff. I’m back,’” Martin said.
The Indians acquired Martin at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last season and the outfielder got off to a hot start in his first six games with his new club. After that sixth appearance for the Tribe on Aug. 7, he felt a substantial amount of pain, but didn’t know where it was coming from. That was the last thing he remembered before waking up in the hospital over a week later, learning he had suffered a life-threatening bacterial infection.
“When I was in the hospital, I thought I was going to be back [in 2018],” Martin said. “But the doctors decided it’s not smart to be back and to rush it. They decided to give me a break to be ready for this year, for Spring Training. But it was hard for me to get that news that I wasn’t going to be in the playoffs. When I got the news, ‘This is what it is, so think about next year. It’s over. Support your teammates any way you can, but it’s not going to be this year.’”
His teammates may not have known him that long, but Martin was already part of the Indians’ family. Many players wrote “LM13” on their hats while he was in the intensive care unit, which Martin appreciated.
“I think I’m still alive today because of all of the praise from the fans and the support of my teammates,” Martin said. “That’s something I will never forget in my life. I had like 10 days in the clubhouse with them and then the way they supported me and my family was amazing. That’s something I will never forget.”
With the Tribe’s first spring game scheduled for Saturday at 3:05 p.m. ET against the Reds, Martin is looking forward to getting back to game action, but he said nothing will compare to the feeling of stepping onto the field on Opening Day.
“I’m a human, so it’s gonna be emotional,” Martin said. “Everybody knows what I went through. It’s been a long time. To see my life turn around so quick and now God gave me the opportunity to be back playing baseball again, it’s going to be emotional for me.”
As Martin watched the final pitch of his at-bat against Kaminsky go past him into the catcher’s mitt Friday afternoon, he grabbed his hands that were still in pain from the sting of a previous swing’s contact, laughed and yelled, ”I’m OK. I’m OK.”
If there’s one thing that Martin’s made clear, it's that it’ll take a lot more than a sting in the hands for him to not be “OK.”
“I was fighting for my life,” Martin said. “When you get into a situation like that, it teaches you to enjoy every single moment of your life.”