Russell Martin Ready to Begin Second Season

VERO BEACH, Fla- A year ago, Russell Martin was in the big league camp from the very first day. That was not his original intention for he was chosen as the main catcher for the Canadian team about to play in the first-ever World Baseball Classic so had been in Arizona working out with them.

That was before several people whose opinions he valued including his workout buddy, fellow Canadian Eric Gagne, told him he would best be served by forgoing the WBC and joining the Dodgers from the start. That way new manager Grady Little could evaluate him better in his quest to take that last step upward to the big club.

To play for Team Canada would have meant a healthy paycheck, never mind the prestige but Russell heeded their advice, dropped off that team and spent the time at Dodgertown instead. Here he thoroughly outplayed Dioner Navarro just as his advisors and others had predicted only to be sent to the minors anyway as Little opted for Navarro's experience.

Not that Dioner came heavily laden with big league time but Russell had exactly zero either up on top or in Triple A for that matter. So, were those extra days in the Dodger camp all just wasted effort ?

"I never looked on it that way, " says Russell today. "Oh, sure, I was disappointed because I know I had a better spring. But I understood their thinking. There were things I had to learn."

Not all that much obviously for Navarro faltered in LA, Russell prospered in Las Vegas so after 23 games he was in the big leagues. Not only that but he quickly became the day-to-day catcher while Navarro was sent to the minors eventually to be traded.

So, on the first day of spring training 2007, here's Russell right on time but this time around he's solidly entrenched as the No. 1 receiver even with Mike Lieberthal, a proven dependable man around as well. Such is the progress that Martin has made.

The hardest part, he feels, was learning his own staff. "Getting together with them, knowing what they wanted to do, communicating, getting them to trust me. That's the most important part of a catcher's job. "

As for hitting, "I love both parts of the game, batting and catching. I didn't find big league pitchers were all that much tougher to hit."

No, a very respectable .281 average with 10 home runs showed he could deliver on offense as well. At the end he got some recognition in the Rookie of the Year balloting although quite possibly not as much as he should have had considering just how well he handled the intricacies of his position.

"There's a lot of intangibles that don't show in the stats," he says, "And they're the biggest part of the job."

On the current roster he's now listed as a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., but that's not where he lives. He did train in that area over the winter but he bought a home in Montreal and has no plans to leave his native land permanently. He's still unmarried but has a steady girl friend, who, also is a Canadian. "She's from Manitoba," he says with a laugh.

Having had the season he did, he can be expected to make up the financial loss that last spring incurred. He still hasn't signed a contract, about which he says, " Well, I'm still a rookie so I don't have a lot of leverage. But I really don't worry about that, I just want to play ball."

As to that, last year when he arrived, he was ridden hard, playing in 121 games. Now, Little has said that it might be advisable to use Lieberthal a bit more to give Russell some time off.

"I hope not, " Russell declares. "I'm ready to play a lot."

He just celebrated his 24th birthday two days ago as a confident, crucial part of Dodger thinking for 2007 and beyond. There may be questions surrounding the Dodgers; there always is. None, however, involves the catching. Martin has seen to that.