Russell Martin proud of Canadian roots
Catcher grew up in Quebec, went to high school in Montreal
"I was really into sports as a kid. Still am now," said the Yankees' 29-year-old catcher. "The difference is that in Paris it's soccer. Back home it's hockey and baseball. We had the Expos then."
Baseball in Paris? It's not easy to find a game, much less a ball field. As Geraldine Baum wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 2008, " ... if you hand a French child a baseball, he'll immediately drop and try to kick it. (Of course, that's how the 1962 Mets played, and they won a World Series a few years later.)"
It was tough for Martin to make friends. He was "the kid from somewhere else. I was different. I didn't speak the same. I had an accent. The accent in Quebec is different from France, as English in England is different from American English.
"Kids, they see something different, and the first thing they try do is mess with you," Martin said. "I actually got in a few fights. I'm not the type of person that backs down and just takes it. After that was done, I kind of set the tone."
His parents divorced when he was 2, and for about eight years he split time between his father in Chelsea and his mother and stepfather in Paris. He went to high school in Montreal.
He attended Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla., and was offered a scholarship to North Carolina State, but signed instead with the Dodgers after they drafted him in the 17th round in 2002.
Martin was a third baseman and shortstop at the rookie-league level, "and then I got to the instructional league (in 2003)," he said. "That's when they converted me to catcher. It wasn't easy, kind of like taking a step backward to take two forward."
By the start of 2006, he was in Triple-A. After 23 games at Las Vegas and with Dodgers starting catcher Dionner Navarro out with a wrist injury, Martin made his Major League debut on May 5, which is why he has always worn No. 55.
One month later, on June 5, he and teammate Eric Gagne became the first French-Canadian battery in Major League history. And 20 days after that, the Dodgers named him their No. 1 catcher and traded Navarro to the Devil Rays.
In 2007, Martin won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, was an All-Star that season and the next, became a free-agent in 2011 and signed with the Yankees.
The name accompanying his picture on stadium scoreboards and baseball cards reads: Russell Martin. That's only part of the story. His full name is Russell Nathan Jeanson Coltrane Martin Jr.
"I think that's the correct order, but I can't say for sure, there's so many of them," Martin joked.
Breaking the name into its individual parts, Russell Sr. is his father, Nathan honors his great-grandfather, his mother is the former Susanne Jeanson, John Coltrane was the consummate jazz saxophonist, and Martin Jr. is self-evident.
Coltrane was among the most influential saxophonists ever.
"My father played sax," Martin said, not mentioning that he did it in the metro, Montreal's subway system, to raise money for his son's baseball training. "Big Coltrane fan. He just stuck Coltrane in there."
Martin learned to play sax, too, but never asked his father what he loved about Coltrane. He surmises it was because he was different, a free-spirited innovator, and liked his style.
"I'm not really a Coltrane fan," Martin said. "With my father, it was a jazz-only thing and that kind of bugged me, because I liked all types of music, and if Dad wouldn't listen to some of the stuff I liked, I wasn't going to listen to his stuff.
"Never got into jazz," Martin added. "But as I'm getting older, I'm beginning to appreciate it more."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.