L.A. has quite a catch

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Opening day jitters shouldn't have been there.

Yet they were for Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell Martin.

Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin, Jr. started 114 games as a rookie for L.A. on the way to winning the National League wild card in 2006.

Yesterday's game against the Atlanta Braves was the first of the spring for both teams. It also was the first his fiancee, Sophie Bedard, a former tennis player from Montreal, had seen him play.

Born in East York, raised in Chelsea, Que., and Montreal, as well living three years in Paris, France, this citizen of the world doesn't follow the old clay-court adage: "Never marry a tennis player because they think love means nothing."

Bedard attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., for a year on scholarship before transferring to Lake Superior State, in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., for three seasons.

When Martin returned to Montreal, Ivan Naccarata, a Team Canada national youth team and Chippola College, teammate invited him out. Naccarata spent 2006 with single-A Brooklyn in the New York Mets system.

"Ivan and I are in line at this club in Laval when three or four of my friends show, then four more," Martin said in the third-base dugout. "By the time we get inside there must have been 25 of my friends there. It was a surprise party.

"Sophie was there. I hadn't seen her since high school. The old feelings came back."

That's a Hollywood love story. Like the way L.A. fell in love with Martin. Almost every time he squatted the Dodgers won. They had a 71-43 (.623 winning mark) when he caught.

As an Ottawa Valley boy, he attended first and second grade in La Peche, Que., and after returning from Paris where his father worked, he returned to the same elementary school for Grades 5 and 6. Now, he's in the Dodgers books along with Paul Lo Duca, John Roseboro and Mickey Owen.

His 65 runs-batted in were the most by a Dodgers catcher since Lo Duca in 2001, the highest by a rook since Roseboro in 1958.

He stole 10 bases, a feat only six Dodgers catchers have managed, including Owen and Roseboro.

Martin was recalled from triple-A Las Vegas May 5 when Dioner Navarro fractured his wrist. He hit a two-run double on Cinco de Mayo wearing No. 55. Derek Lowe worked 71/3 innings as the Dodgers edged Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 with a run in the ninth.

This Dodger catcher grew up playing hockey and skiing at Mont Cascades, Edelweiss Valley and Vorlage. He wasn't very good at hockey.

"I liked skiing downhill with my mom, sometimes my dad took me cross country," Martin recalled. "It's like comparing jogging to sprinting. I like to sprint. And it was expensive."

Martin had his own 2006 highlight reel. Catching Greg Maddux for eight scoreless and hitting a walk-off homer against the hated San Francisco Giants in the 10th on Aug. 13.

"He's a master of control, (Maddux) didn't miss the mitt many times, he threw about 82 pitches," Martin said.

Martin also was in one of the wildest ninth innings ever against the San Diego Padres Sept. 18. Down 9-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Jon Adkins was on the mound.

Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew homered to chase Adkins. Then, Martin and Marlon Anderson hit successive pitches from Trevor Hoffman to tie the game.

Back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers. L.A. won 11-10 in 10 innings

"Our record showed what he meant to us," manager Grady Little said. "A year ago he was unsure if he was a big-leaguer. This year he's sure.

"Once in a while he'd get overly excited rather than nice and cool."

Martin grounded out in his first two at-bats of the spring yesterday knocking in a run, as the Dodgers lost 7-2 to the Braves before 5,442 fans. Cambridge's Scott Thorman singled and drove in a run, while Newmarket's Peter Orr doubled for Atlanta.

But in the catching department it's ... advantage Martin.


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