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Martin donated $600,000 to the One Drop Foundation, an organization that helps communities get sustainable access to safe water sources.

Montreal’s Masked Man

Martin stays grounded in family despite flying high with Blue Jays

By Jason Santerre

Family. It’s a weighty word, a concept carrying considerable connotations. We’re lucky if, within a lifetime, we manage to build a family based on blood relations, lifelong friends or even teammates. Russell Martin understands these complexities. Proof is right there in his name: Russell Nathan Jeanson Coltrane Martin Jr.

It’s quite the mouthful. But each name symbolizes a branch in his family tree. Russell is his father’s name, of course. Nathan comes from his great grandfather. Jeanson is his mother’s maiden name, a name he honours with the “J” printed on his jersey. And Coltrane is a tribute to the famous American sax player.

It’s no surprise that music played a massive role in Martin’s family life. Both parents are musicians and his sister, Vivianne, studies at the École de Musique Vincent d'Indy. Music was always playing or being played whether he was living with his mom in Ottawa or with his dad on weekends in Notre- Dame-de-Grâce. That’s where Martin not only learned about music, he learned about sports and working hard to make a dream come true: professional baseball.

The dream became reality for both Junior and Senior. Reality hit hard that first year in the big leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team found out Martin’s dad was a sax player and invited him to play the Star Spangled Banner before the game. “I've heard the national anthem performed thousands of times — singers, military choirs, marching bands, the occasional recording star,” recalled Martin in a personal essay he wrote for Guideposts magazine. “This night was different. That was my dad out there, blowing into his tarnished saxophone, playing to nearly 55,000 fans. I watched from the top step of the dugout and followed every note, praying for him to do his best. I realized our roles had reversed. All my life he'd rooted for me. Now I was rooting for him.”

When the Blue Jays played a pre-season game at Olympic Stadium this spring, Martin Jr. was there as the new catcher for the Toronto team. Once more, père Martin was asked to open the festivities. It was a fitting moment as the father played music during this homecoming and the son shed tears, overcome by the moment. “After I get through this, I feel like opening day is going to be a piece of cake,” said Martin Jr. in a post-game interview with The National Post.

The moment was special, taken in by his hometown crowd, a crowd still salivating over the thought of perhaps, maybe, somehow having another shot at a major league franchise. As a Montrealer, Martin knows all too well about his city’s passion for the Expos. It’s that kind of passion for sport, culture, and life in general that keeps him close to home. Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun recently wrote that the major selling points for free-agent Martin, “was the proximity to his home of Montreal, the easy flight for his parents to Toronto Island airport, and being someone young players in Canada could admire.”

Indeed, number 55 is a welcome addition to the Blue Jays, a perennial middle-of-the-pack team that hasn’t won a thing since back-to-back World Series a generation ago. Of course, much has changed since the beginning of the season. The Jays have made a few key acquisitions and at the time of this writing, they’re in first place in the American League East. It’s the first time they’ve held that position this late in the season since winning it all back in 1993.

Martin has played a key role in getting the Bluebirds back on track, despite nagging injuries. He brings a gold glove, four allstar appearances, and a rocket launcher of an arm. He’s thrown out more runners attempting to steal than any other catcher since his debut in 2006. His hustle-until-it-hurts leadership helps, too. Experience? He’s got that in spades with over 1,100 major league games — impressive for a man playing what many pundits believe is the most demanding position in baseball.

“Dad worked me hard, putting me through countless drills,” he says of his early training. “It was weird stuff, stuff he'd just make up. ‘I'm going to throw the ball over your head,’ he'd say. ‘I want you to dive for it, whether you reach it or not.’”

That father-and-son time when Martin Jr. was a boy is a kind of metaphor: Go for it. Dive. Extend yourself to the fullest. And whether you reach your goal or not, at least you gave it your all. And you’ll always have the solid roots of family and city to fall back on. Maybe Montrealers can actually root for a Toronto team. Maybe.

Fall 2015, Vol 7 N°4

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