The decades have passed, but the memories of the 1993 championship are still fresh for members of the Arlington Martin baseball team.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago,” said Ben Grieve, a star outfielder on the Warriors squad that claimed the Class 5A state title 20 years ago. “Someone posted something about it on Facebook. Wow. I didn't think it had been that long ago.”
For men ages 37 to 39, the current team’s return to the UIL state tournament has revived some vivid memories.
“To be on a team where everyone believed we would win and refused to give up; I’ve never experienced anything like that,” said Johnny Hunter, who spent five seasons in the San Diego Padres’ organization. “It just seems like yesterday. We always played like it was 0-0. It was guys who were committed to being successful, with a common goal, and willingness to work towards that goal.”
The ’93 Martin team posted a 34-5 record, winning 11 of 12 playoff games. The UIL tournament games were at Disch-Falk Field in Austin, with Martin beating Corpus Christi Carroll in the semifinal 8-3, and Abilene Cooper in the title game 8-0.
A year late
Martin’s baseball title from 20 years ago should have been a second consecutive championship. The 1992 team was loaded with senior talent, and Grieve as a sophomore starter, but that team (26-7) was upset in the second round by Grapevine.
Word from several players is that on the bus ride home after the loss, a senior told the underclassmen to enjoy the experience because the ’93 team wouldn’t do as well.
“I remember that, and thinking, ‘Wow. OK,’” said Guillermo Foster, who shut out Cooper for the title.
“We didn’t need people telling us we weren’t going to be as good as the year before,” added Justin Batson, the starting catcher on the title team. “We always had high expectations for ourselves. It didn’t matter if you were the No. 9 hitter, you were going to get the bunt down if that was what we needed.”
The ’93 team also benefited from the emergence of junior left-hander Matt Blank (13-2) and Foster (12-1), a senior right-hander who relied on a slider as his out pitch. In the playoffs, Martin pitchers posted a 1.05 team ERA and limited opponents to a .168 batting average.
Winning in Austin was a breeze, compared to an earlier one-game playoff against Duncanville. The Panthers entered the game with a 28-0 record and were No. 1 in the country in three publications. Martin won at home 3-2 in front of 2,500 spectators.
Duncanville trailed 3-2 in the top of the fifth, but had loaded the bases. Foster came on in relief with one out in the fifth, and promptly picked off a runner at second base. The next batter flied out to left field.
“That was the turning point,” third baseman David Johnson said of the Duncanville win. “Once we beat them, we just rolled through. We got lucky to beat them.”
In Austin, Johnson was the 5A state-tournament MVP after going 4 for 6 with two doubles and a triple.
The next chapter
Several players from the ’93 team view their squad much like 2013 edition. Both made it to state despite heavy losses to graduation. Last year’s Martin team finished 36-6 and sent eight players to the next level, leaving many holes to fill for 2013.
“When the expectations are low on you and the team, generally you’ll do better because the pressure’s not as great,” said Dan Sims, who started in left field in ’93. “You just go out and play.”
Like the ’93 team, the current squad also has two solid pitchers: juniors Turner Larkins (12-0) and Daniel Lingua (12-0). Amazingly, to this day, Blank’s 13-win season is still the school record.
“It’s 20 years. I’ve had it long enough,” Blank said. “I can share it.”