russell martin mtl

 * C Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) knew at an early age — grade 6 — what he wanted to be. He hasn’t had to spend his life searching for his life’s path. ….

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Letters of Intent

By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Russell Martin was just six years old when he decided what he was going to do for the rest of his life.

Or at least that’s when the word got out.

When Suzanne Jeanson met her son’s first-grade teacher for the first time at an elementary school in Chelsea, Que., the seasoned educator said, “Russell really knows where he’s going.” The young student’s mother looked at her and voiced her thoughts.

“He’s six years old. What did he tell you exactly?”

Over 26 years ago, Martin told that teacher that he was going to be a baseball player. He was so convincing that the teacher believed he could and would eventually do it.

“She was right,” Jeanson said. “And so was he obviously.”

Entering his 10th major-league season, the 32-year-old catcher has quickly become a fan favourite within the Toronto Blue Jays organization. The three-time All-Star has also spent time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates.

And he never strayed from his course.

“He had homework to do once in Grade 6 and he had to write down his life plan,” Jeanson said. “He wrote that he was going to be a professional baseball player and that he was going to meet people from everywhere, like Hollywood and all that stuff.

“And that he would eventually marry and have two kids, so we’ll see what happens. But so far, so good.”

The dream started early for Martin. Born in East York, Ont., but growing up in Montreal, it was the Expos that fuelled that fire and gave him the passion that has carried him through three decades of playing the game.

“That was my team growing up,” he said at spring training in Dunedin, Fla. “If I didn’t have that team there, I might have had a different dream. The dream as a kid was definitely to play for the Expos and to be able to play in Montreal in front of my family.”

Though his native city no longer has a big-league team calling it home, Martin got to live his dream – at least in part – on Friday night, when the Blue Jays hosted the Cincinnati Reds at Olympic Stadium, the team playing their second set of spring training exhibition games there in two years. Jeanson was on hand, with Martin’s 25-year-old sister Vivianne. Martin’s father, also named Russell performed the American and Canadian and national anthems on his saxophone before the first matchup.

“What’s great is that he’s excited about it,” Jeanson said. “It means a lot to him to play where he saw his baseball idols when he was young. And to share this with his dad must be a very special moment for him too. I hope they do well and the crowd appreciates it.”

Added Martin: “Once we lost the Expos I didn’t think it was going to be a possibility. And now it’s a dream that’s going to be coming true. Hopefully one day there can be another major-league team there … It’s going to be fun. I have a lot of memories attached to that building.”

Though there hasn’t been a professional baseball team in Montreal since 2004, it doesn’t stop the next generation of players from dreaming the same dream that Martin had, many of them growing up and watching his journey and realizing that someday they might be able to do the same.

“In Montreal, you don’t just play hockey,” Canadian Junior National Team member Isaac Deveaux said. “There’s a lot of baseball. Montreal likes baseball, and it shows when the Blue Jays play at the Big O. It shows that baseball is still alive in Montreal.”

Added Deveaux’s national teammate JF Garon: “This proves to people that it’s not only the Canadiens in Montreal. There are people everywhere around the MLB who want baseball in Montreal and there is a lot of interest … It could really work if we have a team.”

Both young players from La Belle Province secured their tickets early for this year’s exhibition games after the experience they had at Olympic Stadium last March.

“It was great,” Garon said. “The atmosphere was pretty sick.” Deveaux added: “I got chills last year. I wasn’t used to watching baseball at the Big O. To know that there’s baseball in Montreal is amazing.”

Before heading north from Toronto’s spring training sight in the sunshine state, Martin had already spent time thinking about what it would be like to play at the stadium he grew up as a fan in.

“I’m looking forward to the energy in the ballpark,” he said. “I know when I go see the Montreal

Canadiens play back home the crowd can get pretty crazy and loud and energetic. So that crowd times

three or four, that’s what I’m expecting. Hopefully we don’t knock the roof off from being too loud, but I think it’s going to be close.”

Friday’s game drew 46,314 fans, with a similar amount expected for Saturday’s matchup.

“That’s what I pictured as a kid,” Martin said. “That was the dream, playing in that big stadium, packed house, and then coming up and obviously doing something good at the plate. Hopefully I can make it happen.”

For the young boy who knew from such an early age that he was going to live out a dream of playing Major League Baseball, if there’s one thing for certain about Martin it’s that when he is determined, he will find a way to make things happen.

“Isn’t that amazing?” Jeanson said. “Some of us have to search and search to know what to do with our lives, but he knew right away that was it.”