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Freshman Richie Martin has been instrumental in helping the Gators surge up the SEC standings of late.

Monday April 29, 2013Gator Baseball Freshman Richie Martin Flashes a Veteran Approach

Freshman Richie Martin has been instrumental in helping the Gators surge up the SEC standings of late.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tennessee starter Zack Godley was ready to deal but Gators freshman Richie Martin, 30 games into his college career, made a veteran move.

Godley had retired eight consecutive Gators, including Florida shortstop Cody Dent on his second pitch of the seventh inning. Godley quickly got set to make it nine a row in the Vols' 4-2 win Sunday afternoon. He stared toward the plate waiting for Martin.

Meanwhile, Martin fiddled with his bat in the on-deck circle, looked toward the dugout for any special instruction, and then walked slowly to the plate. Once there, Martin took his time to get settled as Godley anxiously awaited under the hot sun hovering above McKethan Stadium.

It was Martin's best impersonation of former big-leaguer Mike Hargrove, nicknamed "The Human Rain Delay" during his career for his deliberate routine each time he stepped to the plate. Hargrove would step out of the batter's box to adjust his helmet, his batting gloves and his jersey sleeves before each and every pitch.

It used to drive pitchers nuts and give fans plenty of time to run off to the concession stand.

Martin's ploy wasn't nearly that dramatic Sunday, but there was no doubt he was trying to slow down Godley's smooth trip through Florida's lineup as much as possible.

The ploy worked as Martin took Godley's 1-1 pitch and singled to left. Martin used the same tactic in the second inning after Godley breezed through the first two hitters of the inning on just six pitches. He singled that time, too, finishing the day 2-for-4 as Florida's nine-game home win streak came to an end.

While his Gators career remains young, it's obvious Martin's baseball intelligence is high.

When Martin tried to slow down Godfrey in the second inning, Gators radio play-by-play voice Mick Hubert and analyst Jeff Cardozo pointed out how it wasn't the first time they have noticed Martin employ veteran tactics in his first season.

"I think among the freshmen that joined the team this year, it's safe to say he came in with the most baseball savvy,'' said Cardozo, a former Florida pitcher.

Hubert agreed, sharing with the audience that was one of the first things he noticed about Martin early in the season.

The Gators needed a more veteran approach Sunday against Godley, who threw his third consecutive complete game to ensure the Vols didn't get swept as they won for the first time in Gainesville in six years.

"Two things hurt us offensively that were disappointing,” Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said afterward. “We were swinging early in the count and we were getting soft contact and didn't do much damage early in the count. And we didn't make adjustments very well. He pitched us the same way for the most part.”

Despite making the game's final out on a check-swing bouncer back to Godley, Martin has been instrumental in Florida's surge up the SEC standings. The Gators are 25-20, 12-9 in league play after starting the season 11-16.

For comparison's sake, the Gators were 12-9 after 21 conference games last season with a roster loaded with future major-league draft picks. Florida is 14-4 in its last 18 games to move back into the postseason race heading to LSU for the start of a three-game series on Thursday.

It's no coincidence that Martin's return from a broken finger helped spark the surge. A standout shortstop at Bloomingdale High in Tampa, Martin has played mostly center field since his return to help protect the finger from further injury while getting his bat back in the lineup.

Martin grew up around the game after deciding to play baseball exclusively and retire from soccer and basketball when he was around 10. Martin's father Richard served as his primary coach in youth baseball. In high school, he played for Bloomingdale coach Kris Wilken and during the summer played on a travel team led by former major league outfielder Chet Lemon.

The game runs deep in Martin's family, too. His maternal grandfather played in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Martin's mature understanding of the game was noticeable to O'Sullivan and others. The Mariners drafted him in the 38th round a year ago but Martin, a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta at Bloomingdale, made a grown-up decision to come to school, get an education and improve his game.

"His fielding is outstanding, he’s a plus runner, he’ll be able to handle shortstop defensively, which can be said about very few high school players projecting to the pro level,” David Rawnsley, national director of scouting for Perfect Game, told the Tampa Bay Times following June's draft. “Scouts have a real serious concern about whether he’s going to be able to hit, especially right now, at the professional level.”

Martin has adjusted to the college game fine. He is hitting .286 and drove in a career-high four RBI's in a victory to snap USF's 12-game win streak on Tuesday. Martin is a table-setter at the top of the lineup that has 12 RBIs to go along with a steady glove with only two errors.

When it was time to return from the broken finger, Martin didn't hesitate when O'Sullivan moved him to center field.

"At that point, when I had broken my finger and I was sitting on the bench, I just wanted to get in the lineup,'' Martin said. "I didn't care whether it was short or catcher or anywhere. As long as I'm playing, I'm fine with that. I just want to help the team."

The move is temporary. Martin is the Gators' shortstop of the future but with sure-handed Dent filling in nicely defensively, Martin is making strides in the outfield.

Martin summoned a lesson his father once taught him when O'Sullivan approached him about moving to center.

"He always said I've got to be able to play anything,'' Martin said. "I want to say it was hard [at first] because I have never played there before. I've been taking some balls in BP and the coaches have been helping me a lot. I've become more comfortable."

No surprise there. Not with Martin's baseball savvy leading the way.

 

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