Jeremy Martinez calls it “the game within the game.”
It’s all the little things that make baseball special, that separate the ordinary player from those who have the potential to climb the minor-league ladder.
It’s especially true for the catchers, who have to do so much more than just catch baseballs.
“From the manager’s perspective, to the pitching coach to the hitting coach to the players,” the State College Spikes catcher said. “… As a catcher you want to pitch to their weaknesses and you don’t want to give in to anybody.”
It is already a part of the game in which Martinez excels.
It’s one of the many reasons he’s gotten noticed this summer and was one of five Spikes named to the New York-Penn League’s All-Star Game, set for Tuesday night at Dutchess Stadium, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades. Joining him will be infielders Tommy Edman, Danny Hudzina and Elier Rodriguez, and reliever Kyle Carter.
It’s also why the St. Louis Cardinals spent a fourth-round draft pick this past June on the Southern California product.
He understands all those little things that make up the game within the game. What pitches does the pitcher throw? How does the breaking ball break? What does he have the most confidence in when they need a strike?
“I don’t ever want to go into a game not knowing what a guy throws, what his stuff does,” Martinez said.
It doesn’t stop there, either.
Does the batter hit breaking balls well? Does he like pitches high or low, inside or outside? What’s the best pitch for where the defense is positioned?
Martinez calls every pitch, and manager Johnny Rodriguez said Martinez has “outstanding management of games” and knows how to guide pitchers to get them best out of them.
Martinez also is aware much more than wins and losses are determined by his abilities, and is undeterred when pitchers move up and down in the organization.
“Their careers are on the line too, and it’s their ERA,” said Martinez, knowing stats play a major role in whether a pitcher gets to move up in the organization or get cut. “I take a lot of pride in my pitch calling.”
Martinez grew up in southern California, but he was a New York Yankees fan as well as of Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. But he also appreciates the Cardinals organization, and current Cards catcher Yadier Molina, and is glad they picked him in June. It made the choice to leave the Trojans program after his junior season much easier.
“It was a blessing,” Martinez said. “It’s a prestigious organization to be drafted by, just because they go about this business. It fits in my motive and the way I go about my business. It’s very professional. It’s top-tier here.”
He also enjoyed the presence of a few familiar faces when he got here. Pitcher Bob Wheatley was drafted out of USC in 2014 and spent the first month in State College before moving up to single-A Peoria, and Edman played at Pac-12 rival Stanford and is another southern California native.
“It’s more of a bond,” Edman said. “We’ve played against each other a ton.”
They also met on the field in high school, and last summer in the Cape Cod League. Now they’re roommates.
“It’s nice to have a Pac-12 guy like that,” Martinez said. “You always want to root for the Pac-12, and at the same time you have a strong relationship with a roommate, and it motivates you to have success together.”
Despite a full season of college ball, going straight into life in the pros, Martinez is thriving both behind and at the plate. He’s batting .318 with a .430 on-base percentage, collecting nine doubles and a homer while knocking in 21 runs.
“He works the whole field,” Rodriguez said. “He doesn’t do too much with it. He knows when to turn, when to go the other way. He sets up the pitcher. It’s the same way he catches.”
The Spikes manager thinks Martinez could even hold his own right now at Double-A baseball as a hitter.
“Jeremy Martinez — professional catcher, professional hitter,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
Where Martinez still needs work, according to Rodriguez, is some of the small physical skills of a catcher – the speed of his transition to throwing the ball, the mechanics of his throws and his footwork. They are all facets he will learn over time.
He already has learned about the game within the game.
“I know all the pitchers love throwing at him,” Edman said. “He calls a really good game, and I think he’s a really good, soothing presence behind the plate to kind of calm the pitchers down if they’re rushing a little bit.”