* A year ago the New York Mets-Blue Jays series drew 96,000 for a two-game series. The second edition wasn’t exxpected to do as well, but then the Blue Jays signed C Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) and he’ll be at Olympic Stadium Friday night and Saturday afternoon against Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.
By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
MONTREAL- It goes without saying, Russell Martin is excited to be coming home.
Having signed a five-year, $82M contract with Toronto last November, a deal that effectively ranks the Canadian-born veteran as the highest paid free agent signing in franchise history, home is exactly where the Blue Jays intend on keeping him for the foreseeable future.
For Martin, the opportunity to play for the Jay comes with an added level of importance given what this organization means to his native country.
“What’s awesome about playing for the Blue Jays is that it’s the nationâs team,” explained Martin in a recent interview with the CBN. “There’s only one major league franchise in the country and to represent Canada as a whole, rather than a specific city or state, is pretty special.”
Born in the Toronto suburb of East York and raised in Montreal, Martin has been a focal point for baseball enthusiasts from across the country since breaking into the majors as a 23 year-old with the Dodgers in 2006.
Growing up north of the border, the bilingual catcher can recall how incredible it was to be a Canadian baseball fan during the formative days of his youth.
From the back to back World Series championship Blue Jay squads of 1992-93 to a dominant Expos club that led the majors with a 74-40 win-loss record prior to the players strike of 1994, Martin remembers those days well and in 2015, the three-time all-star plans to help rekindle some of the embers that still burn from a time in which baseball fanaticism spread from sea to sea, engulfing much the âGreat White Northâ.
“Being a Canadian kid, I was a pretty big fan of both the Expos and Blue Jays,” recalled Martin. “Naturally, I became more of a Jays fan during the 1992 and 1993 seasons when those amazing teams went back to back in the World Series.”
Of course, like many Canadians, Martin is also aware of the fact that Toronto hasnât sniffed a playoff game since Joe Carter sent a 2-2 Mitch Williams offering over the left field wall at SkyDome to secure the â93 series.
Having lived the excitement of watching his team win it all as a child, Martin, still in search of his first World Series ring, can’t wait to see Toronto return to the Fall Classic once again and over the course of the next five seasons, number 55 intends on doing everything in his power to help make that dream a reality.
“The Blue Jays haven’t been to the postseason in a long time. Personally one of the reasons I enjoy the game so much is to get to play baseball in October and Iâd definitely like to help bring those winning ways back to Toronto. The city deserves it … the whole country does, really.”
In addition to playing for the team that inspired much of his childhood aspirations with regards to becoming a big league ballplayer one day, suiting up for the Jays at Olympic Stadium this weekend is nothing short of a dream come true for both Martin and his family.
“There’s probably going to be all kinds of butterflies and nerves in store but its going to be exciting.” said Martin. “I’m hoping for an exciting couple of games that will leave a lasting impression in people’s memories.”
For Martin, distant memories of the countless days spent under the Kevlar roof at 4545 Pierre de Coubertin Ave continue to fuel his passion for the game. A passion that continues to burn long after making the transition from a wide-eyed child sitting in section 104, to an inspirational figure who, as a major leaguer, takes the field in front of thousands of fans on a nightly basis.
“The memories start with that moment when I first went to the stadium with my dad,” said Martin. âWe would pack up some sandwiches and head down to the park to watch guys like Tim Wallach, Marquis Grissom, Andre Galarraga, John Wetteland … there are so many players I can name still to this day.”
As is often the case with most young fans, whenever he got back onto a diamond following his latest trip to the Big O, Martin would try to emulate exactly what he saw on the Astro-turfed expanses of Montreal’s ballpark.
“If I saw Delino DeShields go up the middle and make a slick play on his back hand, jumping up and throwing the guy out at first base, I would try to do that exact same thing the next day. Knowing that, I now realize how much of an impact we as players can have on people watching the game.”
“I’m going to try to hopefully be that same type of example for another generation of Canadian kidsâ explained the Jays catcher, elated to have an opportunity to do so in front of baseball fans within Royal City.
Understanding how difficult it is to lose something you hod so dearly, Martin hopes that with this weekend’s exhibition series at the Big O, fans will be treated to something special.
“The baseball fans in Montreal, they lost their team and that’s hard,” said Martin. “When you’re an avid fan and you lose your team, it’s hard to stay positive about the game. Hopefully we can bring some sunlight into those baseball fans souls and make some more Blue Jays fans in the process.”
– Follow Andrew Hendriks on Twitter (@77hendriks)