SARASOTA, Fla. -- For Drew Jackson and Richie Martin, the revelatory moments came in cars -- and at critical points in their careers. Jackson was in the passenger’s seat in a sleepy section of Palo Alto, Calif., just done with his sophomore year at Stanford. Martin was driving around Tampa,
SARASOTA, Fla. -- For Drew Jackson and Richie Martin, the revelatory moments came in cars -- and at critical points in their careers. Jackson was in the passenger’s seat in a sleepy section of Palo Alto, Calif., just done with his sophomore year at Stanford. Martin was driving around Tampa, Fla., where his parents relocated years before he became a former first-round pick in jeopardy of flaming out at the Class A Advanced level.
Jackson squinted at a distant street sign. Martin slowed down for a yellow light. Both sat at the same crossroads, facing similar dilemmas. That’s when, years and thousands of miles apart, both realized the baseball futures they foresaw for themselves were clouded -- literally.
“My friend could read the sign and I couldn’t,” Jackson remembers. “I borrowed his glasses and everything was sharp. I said, I have to go see a doctor.”
Martin had recently made a similar decision. Two years after the A’s selected him 20th overall in 2015, he sputtered enough to warrant a midseason demotion back to Class A, where Martin realized he not only struggled to read seams of breaking pitches, but the billboards lining the outfield walls as well. Ed Sprague, one of Oakland’s roving Minor League instructors, recommended Martin see an ophthalmologist.
“Something had to change,” Martin said. “I was playing mediocre and that was not acceptable. At that point I was all ears to anything.”
Flash forward to the present day, when Jackson and Martin’s journeys have led them to the same place. Both are new to the Orioles and in camp, acquired minutes apart from one another in December’s Rule 5 Draft. Both primarily play shortstop, and now qualify as each other’s main competition for either that spot or a utility role. Neither knew the standard vision tests of their youth were insufficient, or as Jackson says, “I think I was cheating as a kid.”
“I never had my eyes checked so in depth like they were. When I actually put the glasses on, I didn’t know you could see like that,” Martin said. “When I first got them I was messing around driving, taking them on and off. The streetlights were blurry. Now they’re just a dot.”
Martin and Jackson both wear contacts when playing now, which Martin insists is only part of his story. He also spent the past two winters revamping his hitting mechanics with now-famed hitting guru Craig Wallenbrock in California, who works with J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts and other stars. But Martin also makes offseason trips to Miami to visit Dr. Dan Lewen, who updates his prescription annually.
“It’s like going from a regular TV to HD,” Martin said.
The aggregate on-field results have been plain to see. Armed with fresh eyes and a new swing, Martin returned to Double-A last year and hit .300 with a .807 OPS and 25 steals, setting career highs in every major offensive category. Jackson came into his own as a junior, became a fifth-round pick of the Mariners, then reached Double-A last summer with the Dodgers. He broke out at that level, clocking 15 home runs and stealing 22 bases while seeing time at three defensive positions.
Now the eyes are on them. Martin and Jackson have built-in advantages to cracking the Orioles’ Opening Day roster. If either can’t, the Orioles must offer them back to their old organizations, the A’s and/or Dodgers, for $50,000. Most others in Baltimore’s crowded middle infield mix can be sent to the Minors without such restrictions, which means Martin and Jackson’s paths to the Majors have never been clearer.
“It blows my mind now when I wake up without them in the morning,” Jackson said. “I look around and say, ‘This is what I was seeing before?’”
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.