Pop plays, Diaz Martin hug it out

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martin's pop

* Russell Martin’s father, also named Russell, played the anthems on his sax before the Cincinnati Reds played the Blue Jays Friday night at Olympic Stadium … bringing a tear to the eye of his son and others. ….

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Letters of Intent

By Bob Elliott

MONTREAL _ Brett Cecil is supposed to get the saves this season.

The final one of the exhibition season went to infielder Jonathan Diaz … before the game even began.

Behind the mound stood Russell Martin’s father, also named Russell, playing the U.S. and Canadian anthems on his sax.

“I was OK for an maybe one anthem and 3/4,” said Martin, “but my dad got me near the end of the Canadian anthem.

“I was crying, Jon Diaz gave me a hug … right when I needed a hug. I put water on my face as soon as I was finished so no one would know.”

Martin said that his teammates didn’t know what to expect for the hometown hero returning.

As homecomings go it was sweet music.

Only for Martin’s father.

As pre-season games go it was like no other …

“I felt like a kid, it felt like my first game in the big leagues and I’ve played nine years, over 1,000 games,” said a drained Martin after his return to Montreal and the Olympic Stadium. “My dad got me.”

Martin’s father, sounded a lot like jazz saxophonist John Coltrane wearing a blue Blue Jays jersey with his son’s No. 55 on his back. And when he was finished the father tapped his hand to his heart.

“A lot of guys didn’t know it was my dad,” Martin said. “I really wanted to do something special that first at-bat, something cool. Jason Marquis was cooler.”

Martin flew out in the first against Marquis.

He bounced out in the fourth and again in the sixth.

No matter for the Montrealer, who was welcomed back with open lungs and rhythmic clapping.

The Blue Jays catcher was cheered from the time his picture was shown on the scoreboard during the anthems as his pop played the anthem until the top of the eighth.

Manager John Gibbons — never one for the theatrics — brought in lefty Aaron Loup to pitch. Martin caught Loup’s warm ups and then Gibbons headed to the mound for one of the few times this spring.

Gibbons wasn’t making a pitching change, but rather he made the trip to remove his catcher.

Martin headed to the bench for another ovation from the crowd of 46,314 fans. It was like each time his name was introduced, or even when he hit a loud foul down the right field line.

Dioner Navarro came on to catch the final two innings. As Martin neared the first base dugout and in the midst of yet another standing ovation he tapped his hand over his chest … as his father had done hours earlier.

It was a good thing Gibbons hooked Martin.

Imagine the risk he would have taken going behind the plate without his chest protector or shin guards.

But really it was all part of Gibbons master plan.

Martin was making an exit the way Mariano Rivera did in 2013 at the end of his career as a New York Yankee, as the applause metre climbed.

The crowd cheered when the catcher was shown three times during the anthems. It booed with mayor Denis Coderre, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Skip Schumaker hit a two-run single to left after Loup issued a one-out walk, a single and a wild pitch as the Reds scored a 2-0 win.

Olympic Stadium with 15,000 people used to sound louder than a sold-out SkyDome did 25 years ago. And the noise level was through the roof during pre-game introductions as both Orlando Cabrera and Vladimir Guerrero were honored pre game.

Cabrera played 15 years in the majors, winning two gold gloves. He spent eight years with the Expos. Guerrero spent 16 years in the majors, eight with Montreal, earning nine all-star selections and the 2004 Los Angeles Angels.

The Montreal Canadiens’ entertainment arm, evenko, put on a pre-game light show at darkened Olympic Stadium with pictures or holograms of the Jays shown on the infield. As pre-game shows go, it was a good one.

And Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar, and Cito Gaston will be honored before Saturday afternoon’s game.

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