By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – It can easily be argued that no one controls the pace of a baseball game at any level more than the catcher, often referred to as the team’s “on-field general.”
The catcher controls momentum, impacts the pace of the game and adds another weapon to the team’s defensive arsenal. He or she can disrupt an opponent’s offensive rhythm more than any other player on the field. A good catcher will bounce around and push the pace of the game much like the role of a point-guard in basketball. Former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek was of that ilk. So too is St. Louis Cardinals receiver Yadier Molina and Hall-of-Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, the latter of whom just so happens to be the idol of Shrewsbury High School’s (SHS) Nick Martin.
Martin, a senior co-captain and starting catcher of the varsity squad, is all of the above and then some. Take in a Colonials or Shrewsbury Legion contest and you will quickly come to admire his skills as a tactician, prowess as a take-charge leader and his aggressiveness and focused control of play. Toss in that his batting average is a robust .422, tops in Midland-A, and SHS head coach Lee Diamantopoulos is quick to acknowledge that he has had a standout athlete at one of the game’s most arduous positions for the past four years.
“I’m so grateful to have a kid like Nick,” Diamantopoulos acknowledged. “He’s the heartbeat of our team. He’s the best on-field leader I’ve ever coached. He’s a kid that we love to have on our team. He’s into every pitch and he makes sure everyone else on the team is into every pitch. He’s vocal, plays with heart and if you see him after a game it looks like he needs to run his uniform through the washer twice.
“He lives, eats and breathes baseball. He’s the textbook baseball player. Just the way he carries himself makes him be the kind of kid you want to play with and for. As much as he’s vocal on the field, he’s hungry off the field and shows humility in the senses that he’s a team player and it’s never about him. I really respect that with him.”
For Martin, it was baseball, baseball and more baseball from an early age on. He points to the encouragement and support of his mom and dad as key to his rise in skill level. There was backyard baseball with younger brother Alex, another Martin on the rise but still a few years away from high school. It wasn’t long before a hitting cage was set up at home and the perfect training environment was created.
“My parents always told me that if I love something just do it as much as possible to get better and they always gave me the opportunity to find what I love and just being in the backyard I found what I love,” said Martin.
There were brief experiences with soccer and football, the latter being the best chance “to give out hits”, but it was always baseball and before long he found himself a starter on the SHS varsity team as a freshman. His stats continued to rise as time went on and it was the catcher position that was never in doubt as to where he needed to be. He became a leader both vocally and by example and someone not afraid to interact with players, particularly the pitching staff as a good battery mate would do.
“I know when pitchers need a little pat on the back and a confidence boost,” said Martin. “Other people that know their ability more and have confidence in what they can do if they give up a big hit I just tell them to buckle down and do what they know they can do. I’ll talk to them more in the dugout than on the mound because I don’t want to show anyone up. I just want to calm them down.
“For me, the hardest part of baseball is keeping your confidence. You have to realize that ‘no-hit’ games are going to happen as much as you don’t want them to because of all the hard work you put in. You can start to question yourself but you have to focus on how talented you can be and how hard you worked.”
Martin, while playing through the pain of a torn labrum, was named MVP of the 2016 Shrewsbury American Legion State Championship team that advanced to regional competition and was, of course, a member of the Colonials team that advanced to District finals in each of the past two seasons before being knocked off by St. Peter-Marian High. The team is hoping for a much further run this spring.
The fall will see Martin off to Suffolk University where he will focus on a business major and continue with his baseball career at the same time. His wider aspirations include landing a 2018 roster spot on the Worcester Bravehearts, this region’s entry into the Future Collegiate Baseball League. He would be one of a number of local players to accomplish that goal and knows that he will have to earn the attention of that team’s decision-makers to make it happen.
Regardless of which direction his baseball career turns, his determination and zeal for the game and the leadership that goes along with it will never wane. There is no letting go until or if he comes to the end of the road although no one’s expecting that anytime soon.
“I was born with the love to compete in anything but baseball drives me every day,” Martin said. “I’m going to take in as much baseball as I can until someone tells me I can’t play anymore.”