Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin plans to play shortstop for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
By Jon Paul MorosiFoxSports
Russell Martin is a catcher. He’s a good one, too, beginning his first season as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Martin, 30, has played nearly 1,000 games in the major leagues — not one as a shortstop. But that’s probably going to be his position when he suits up for Canada at next month’s World Baseball Classic.
“It’s hilarious, the reactions I get,” Martin said Monday at the Pirates’ spring complex. “It’s like, ‘This guy’s a catcher. He wants to play shortstop.’ ”
Martin hasn’t started a regular-season game on the infield since 2008, as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That was at third base. But Canada doesn’t have a major leaguer with meaningful experience at shortstop. So, Martin could be as good an option as anyone else. (Chris Robinson, a minor leaguer with Baltimore, is the other catcher on Canada’s provisional roster.)
Martin, an everyday third baseman for one season in the minors, clearly wants the shortstop job. Even as he’s busy learning Pittsburgh’s pitching staff in the early days of camp, he’s been taking ground balls on the back fields at Pirate City. A shortstop’s glove arrived over the weekend. Now he’s breaking it in.
“I like to prove people wrong,” Martin said. “I’m going to do what I feel like doing. I feel like playing shortstop. It’s a selfish move from my part. But it’s what I love to do. Sometimes you’ve got to do what you feel like doing for yourself. And I want to do it.
“And if it goes well, then great. I expect it to go well, because I know I have the talent. I’m doing the work I need to do now to not embarrass myself and my country. Hopefully, people will be pleasantly surprised when they see how I play.”
The reaction so far in Pirates camp?
“Everybody’s surprised, because it’s not something usual,” Martin said. “I know myself. I know how I was brought up. It’s like riding a bike. You’ve done it before.
“The only thing people are worried about is the speed of the game. You’ve played up to a certain level, but you haven’t had (Albert) Pujols hitting rockets at you at shortstop. And that’s true. But that’s not something I’m scared of. I block A.J. Burnett curveballs in the dirt. I get hit on the arm all the time. I take balls in the throat. I’m not scared of the baseball.”
Martin said the Pirates have supported his choice to leave camp to participate in the WBC — and take on the challenge of a new position, albeit temporarily.
“It’s not an easy decision,” Martin said. “I’m doing it because I feel I owe it to the Canadian people to compete for my country, even if I have more of a world citizen-type attitude where I feel like we’re all in it together overall. It’s fun to compete. It makes for good baseball. People play for the passion.”
Canada will gather in Arizona for training camp early next month and play exhibitions against Milwaukee on March 5 and Cincinnati on March 6 before starting pool play against Italy on March 8 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Justin Morneau, Brett Lawrie, Michael Saunders, John Axford, Jesse Crain and Jameson Taillon are among the players listed on Canada’s roster.
“With Team Canada, it’s a good group of guys,” Martin said. “It’s a family atmosphere. With Canada, you don’t have that many players. So it’s more of a brotherhood. It’s always fun getting with the guys, and it’s the same coaching staff. We have a good time. We compete. We give our best effort. And we let the chips fall wherever they fall.”
In other Canada news, Boston Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster said over the weekend that the odds are against him participating in the WBC.