Meet the man who threw the Classic's only no-hitter

March 3rd, 2023
Design by Tom Forget

The person who is, perhaps, the greatest representative of the spirit and the substance of the World Baseball Classic and the appeal baseball has internationally is no Major League star, no household name. He’s an unheralded right-hander from Willemstad, Curaçao, whose brief big league career concluded a decade ago but who keeps coming back for more -- from baseball and from this tournament.

will suit up for Team Netherlands in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, just as he has in all but one of the previous installments of the event. (He has a valid excuse for his absence in 2009, which we’ll address later).

It was in the inaugural Classic, way back in 2006, that Martis, then a baby-faced 18-year-old, became the first -- and thus far only -- pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the tournament. All these years and miles later, a soon-to-be 36-year-old Martis still relishes the opportunity to compete on this important international stage.

“For me, it’s like going to play Major League competition for a month,” he says by phone from the Netherlands prior to his departure for the Classic. “I’m really looking forward to it, because it’s one of the biggest tournaments in baseball and it has meant a lot to my career.”

The Dutch team, which has advanced to the semifinals in each of the last two Classics and will compete in Pool A in Taiwan with Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Italy and Panama beginning on Wednesday, counts on Martis as a reliable veteran presence.

“He understands where he’s at,” Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens says. “He understands that he didn’t become a Major League star, but he still has what it takes to play at a high level, to compete, to get his body in shape. He gives you all he’s got. That’s what makes him special.”

Growing up on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, Martis was introduced to baseball by an older cousin, whose coach approached a 7-year-old Martis after a game one day to ask if he’d like to participate.

Martis remembers looking up at his father, awaiting a response.

“He didn’t ask me,” his dad said, “he asked you.”

Young Martis was all-in. By age 9, he had adjusted his dream of becoming the next Andruw Jones (a fellow Curaçao native) by moving to the mound. By age 15, he attended a Latin America showcase in Panama, where he first caught the eye of Major League scouts. And at age 16, he was signed by the Giants after a tryout.

Fortuitously, the first World Baseball Classic came along in Martis’ formative years as a professional pitcher. He eagerly embraced the opportunity to represent his home island and the broader nation of the Netherlands … and he ran with it.

“After we lost a game to Puerto Rico [in the opening round], the manager pulled me aside and said, ‘Shai, you’re pitching tomorrow against Panama,’” he recalls. “I didn’t even know, but I said, ‘OK, fine.’”

It worked out pretty well.

At Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan, Martis shoved for six innings against a Panama lineup featuring Orlando Miller and Carlos Lee, while the Netherlands lineup put up 10 runs of support.

“He was just mowing through them,” says Meulens, “and they couldn’t figure him out.”

After Martis came off the mound in the top of the sixth, catcher Sidney de Jong looked up at the scoreboard and realized aloud, “Damn, you’re throwing a no-hitter!”

“You can’t say that!” was the immediate response in the dugout.

As long as the Netherlands maintained its 10-run lead through seven, the game would be called by run rule. So Martis was in good position to finish what he started.

Only one problem: Martis was at 57 pitches thrown, and the maximum for starters in the first round was 65.

“I was saying to myself,” he recalls, “‘Shai, you’ve got to get through this inning with less than nine pitches.'”

His first pitch was a flyout to left. His third pitch to the next batter resulted in an error at third base, putting a runner aboard. And then, facing pinch-hitter César Quintano, Martis used his 65th and final pitch to induce the ground-ball double play that preserved his place in Classic history.

“When I got back to Spring Training with the Giants, the team I was practicing with circled around me and gave me a big round of applause,” Martis says. “That’s when I thought, ‘Damn, Shai, you really did something big.’”

Traded by the Giants to the Nationals a few months later for veteran reliever Mike Stanton, Martis moved to the organization with whom he would make his Major League debut in 2008. And in 2009, he had a legit chance of cracking the Nats’ Opening Day roster.

That’s why he missed the Classic that year.

“The Nationals didn’t give me the permission to go,” he says. “They told me I had a chance to make the team, so it’s better for me to stay and get stretched for the season. It was mixed feelings for me, because I wanted to be with [Team Netherlands], and I’ll never know how far we could have made it. But in the end, it was the right decision, because I made the team.”

Shairon Martis went 5-3 in 15 starts with the Nationals in 2009. (AP)

Had Martis pitched for the Netherlands in 2009, he would have the chance this year join the legendary Miguel Cabrera and longtime reliever Oliver Perez as the only players to have appeared in every iteration of the Classic.

Instead, Martis made 15 starts for the Nats that season, including the club’s first complete game in three years. He ultimately didn’t stick in the rotation, and he wound up filtering through the Minors with a few different organizations in the ensuing years. The handful of relief appearances he made for the Twins in 2013 -- the same year he participated in the World Baseball Classic a second time -- turned out to be his final opportunities at the big-league level.

“My body was getting tired,” he says. “If I knew how to take care of my body then like I know right now, it would be totally different. I’d be a different player.”

Martis spent the next few years in independent and international leagues. Interestingly, though, he would get one more brief opportunity in affiliated ball with the Orioles in 2017 -- an opportunity he owed to his performance in the Classic that year.

“I had a good tournament,” he says, “so Baltimore reached out to my agent.”

So the Classic has been good to Martis, and so has baseball. Though he did not last long at the Major League level, he’s managed to carve out a long and fulfilling career, spending the last four years with Amsterdam and Rotterdam in Honkbal Hoofdklasse -- the highest level of professional baseball in the Netherlands, where he now resides.

“I’ve had a good experience over here,” he says. “People will think that this league is not as hard, but every day is a different type of competition. You have guys that are free swingers, then you face a different team with more patience. I would compare it to Double-A.”

Martis still loves the game, still relishes the chance to compete. And he can’t wait to compete again in the World Baseball Classic -- a tournament that has enlivened his life and his career in many ways.

“I’m still having fun with the game,” he says, “and I’m still getting outs.”