Martin is L.A.'s latest convert

BOB ELLIOTT

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Maury Wills recites the names.

Steve Garvey came up as a third baseman. He played the final 16 years of his 19-year career at first.

Davey Lopes was an outfielder but played 13 of his first 16 seasons at second.

Billy Russell played outfield for two seasons before spending 15 at shortstop.

Ted Sizemore caught in the minors. He was National League rookie of the year at second in 1969, the first of his 12 seasons.

Wills, a speedy shortstop with the Dodgers, was signed as a pitcher.

"Branch Rickey called it coconut- snatching," Wills said. "I have no idea where the term came from, but Rickey thought his people knew a player's position better than the player."

Which leads us to Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who was drafted as a third baseman in 2002. After one year in the L.A. system, they converted him, putting him behind the plate.

Now, you can't walk 10 feet in Dodger Stadium without seeing a Martin all-star poster. It reads in both of Canada's official languages:

"Vote for Russell! Votez pour Russell!"

Russell is the top catcher in the National League, but sits third in voting.

Blue Jays first base coach Marty Pevey studies video on where his outfielders should play opposing hitters and he estimated he looked at 200 at-bats by Martin to prepare for this interleague series.

"He hit seven out of 10 balls hard, consistently," Pevey said. "He might be their best hitter -- for sure he's their best in the clutch. Martin is a young stud. He hunts fastballs.

"It's amazing that he's a converted guy. I saw him in the Arizona Fall League, where he was from, and asked: 'How did he slip through the cracks?'"

Pevey, a catcher for 14 years, could not believe Martin never had caught before he was drafted. He was impressed with the way the East York native blocks balls, throws and calls a game.

"Well, I caught 18 games at Chipola College my final year," said Martin, who attended the same Montreal high school as Eric Gagne.

Wills, 74, who stole 506 bases, has seen a few catcher.

"His temperament hasn't changed since he got here a year ago May," Wills said. "He's the same kid. And he's the real deal."

Martin said Phillippe Aumont, of Gatineau, Que., being selected in the first round was good for baseball in Quebec. Yet he worries about youngsters now that the Montreal Expos have left.

"Young guys in high school won't be affected if they love baseball," Martin said. "I don't know about younger kids. There are not many French-Canadian players in the big leagues. Kids follow Eric Gagne (Rangers), Erik Bedard (Orioles), Pete LaForest (up with the Padres earlier this season)."

And of course Martin's Dodgers.

Fredericton's Matt Stairs hit second for the Jays on Friday night.

"He said hello to the ump and hi to me," Martin said. "Then he said: 'Another Canadian who can rake.' He's funny."

Martin wasn't laughing when Stairs homered in the ninth to force extra innings before the Dodgers pulled out a 4-3 win.

Today, Martin faces Roy Halladay.

"Good," Martin said, flexing his muscles and smiling. "I like facing the good ones."


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