Texas Rangers

The Chris Martin Story, far from over, keeps getting better

Chris Martin’s arsenal includes tips from Shohei Ohtani

Texas Rangers reliever Chris Martin, signed Friday, said that Shohei Ohtani showed him the grip Martin adopted for his split-fingered fastball (video by Jeff Wilson).
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Texas Rangers reliever Chris Martin, signed Friday, said that Shohei Ohtani showed him the grip Martin adopted for his split-fingered fastball (video by Jeff Wilson).

The guys he once lugged washers and dryers and fridges with down at Lowe’s and Texas Appliance are pretty pumped up, naturally.

Their former co-worker is the newest member of the Texas Rangers’ bullpen. The former Arlington resident is pretty pumped up, too.

Chris Martin hasn’t necessarily come full circle, but he again is an employee of an Arlington business. Maybe, then, he has come half-circle, from saving his baseball career first with the Grand Prairie Air Hogs and most recently in Nippon Professional Baseball.

And, it turns out, Shohei Ohtani might be able to help the Rangers this season after all.

The Chris Martin Story is a great one, a fascinating one, an inspirational one, but it’s not over. His two-year, $4 million contract with the Rangers became official Friday, and now Martin can’t really believe the chapters ahead.

“It is a dream come true,” Martin said, standing in front of his locker at Globe Life Park. “I grew up my whole life watching the Rangers idolizing Nolan Ryan. I remember mimicking him on TV, kicking the knee up real high.

“Driving up today and seeing the stadium and getting the realization that I might be doing this all through the season is a really awesome experience.”

Right-hander Chris Martin grew up in Arlington and was a huge Texas Rangers fan. Now, after a long journey, he pitches for them (video by Jeff Wilson).

Here’s the quick rundown on Martin’s baseball journey:

All-State pitcher in 2004 at Arlington High School.

▪  Injured in 2006 at McLennon Community College in Waco.

▪  Shoulder didn’t initially respond to a 2007 surgery.

▪ ▪  Started working off and on at Lowe’s, UPS and Texas Appliance.

▪  Started throwing again and earned a 2010 roster spot at an Air Hogs tryout.

▪  Was given a spring tryout in 2011 with the Boston Red Sox, and aced it.

▪  Made his MLB debut in 2014 with the Colorado Rockies.

▪  Pitched for the New York Yankees in 2015.

▪  Signed with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2016 and became a star reliever.

▪  Lands a contract with the Rangers that will pay him $1.75 million in 2018 and $2.25 million in 2019.

Along the way, his fortitude was tested. He didn’t want to give up on baseball without that Air Hogs tryout, and while struggling early in his first season in Japan, he knew that his career would end if he didn’t get his act together.

So, he did.

After going 0-2 with a 6.19 ERA over 36 1/3 big-league innings, Martin went 2-0 with a 1.07 ERA and 25 saves in 2016 with the Fighters and then 0-2 with a 1.19 ERA last season.

Control and strikeouts were his calling card, but so was slowing down the game and learning how to get out of trouble.

Martin walked 13 and fanned 91 in 88 1/3 innings in Japan, where Rangers scouts watching Ohtani with the Fighters took note of his 6-foot-7 American teammate with mid-90s fastball velocity, a slider, a cutter and, beginning last season, a split-fingered fastball.

Martin had tinkered with the pitch in 2015 with the Yankees, asking Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka how to throw it. Two years later, Martin turned to Ohtani and found another pitch that gets batters out.

“He had a little bit to do with it, yes,” Martin said. “One day, I was like, ‘Hey, Othani, was the tip on the slider?’ He was like, ‘This is how I grip it. Just try to get on top of it and throw it as hard as you can.’

“I tried it out a couple times playing catcher, and it seemed pretty good. Then, the first game after him teaching me, I threw it, and the first time I threw it I got a swing and a miss on a first pitch. My confidence grew with the pitch, and I kept going with it.”

And now Martin is back in Arlington, with the team he grew up watching, only miles from the high school where he starred and the friends he toiled with while out of baseball.

“They can’t believe,” Martin said. “They’re all really excited for me and can’t wait come out and watch me in a game.”

His story keeps getting better.

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