Former Hockey Player Tops Dodger Chart

Russell Martin is a Canadian athlete which means that any writer automatically assumes that hockey was his main sport growing up and will write about the mentality of that game that he brings to baseball. So, is it true about this one? Well, yes, but only up to a point. "Oh, sure, I played hockey growing up," he allows before qualifying the remark. "But it never was my main sport. My dad was a baseball player and that's the one I concentrated on."

He's certainly been concentrating on the diamond for the past few years as a Dodger, shooting up the charts as a catching prospect after being converted to that position after his rookie year in 2002. A most satisfying season at Vero Beach this past summer earned him a spot on the 40-man roster so he was spending the first official day of camp at Dodgertown as a big leaguer, at least for the time being.

Last spring, he was a last-minute addition to this camp as a non-roster invitee, brought in to help work out the pile of pitchers that are gathered every spring. "They only told me I was coming in a week before so I wasn't in the best of shape. Now, I'm a lot more ready."

Since working out in Canada (he lives in a Quebec suburb just across the river from that nation's capital, Ottawa), is not at all easy at this time of year, Martin went to Arizona and a baseball academy there. "Great facilities, so I was able to get ready."

He was no stranger to that state, having participated in the Arizona Fall League, where he drew rave reviews. "Yeah, I had a good time there. We went to the playoffs." There was one particular game when, "The tying run was on third and the pitcher was wild so I kept having to leap five feet out to keep the ball from going through. The fans stood and cheered. For making a stop, if you can imagine that."

Handling pitchers, wild or otherwise, is something Martin is becoming more adept at all the time. His primary weapon as a catcher, though, is arm strength. All summer long, he gunned down runners in the Florida State League with such aplomb that he was often anointed the Dodger catcher of the future.

That title is now in dispute with the acquisition of Dioner Navarro from the Yankees via Arizona in the trade that saw Shawn Green wind up with the Diamondbacks. Navarro is now here in Dodgertown as well but his presence doesn't faze Martin.

"They went out and got the best player they could which is the way you're supposed to in a trade, " he says, with a shrug. "I don't blame them. This is a business, after all. I'll just go out and play as hard as I can. "

That will probably be at Jacksonville this summer. "You know, we could have a heck of a team there," he declares.

In the meantime, though, he 's here to show them what he can do. And there are those who'll tell you that he could very well wind up the top Dodger receiver in the future, Navarro or no. He's got that much potential.

And he's not missing hockey, either even whether the season the season is cancelled. "Oh, I follow it and I'll miss the Stanley Cup playoffs. But it was never really my thing. "

BLUE NOTES-- One question asked on this first day was, "Is Darren Dreifort in camp?" No, his 11th (or was it his 12th?) operation means he's recuperating someplace other than here … Add Jason Grabowski to the list of those toiling as a catcher. It's part of a plan to see if he could be an emergency backup during the season. ... Tommy Lasorda is here in uniform, reveling in the fact that he's been named special assistant to club president Frank McCourt. "That something the NewsCorp people never did," said Tommy. "I think I can help in a lot of ways, something I haven't been able to do for the past several years. "