Life in the fast lane

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- For three years now, Russell Martin has been living in baseball's fast lane. In those rare moments when he has time to take a breath and reflect, even he can't quite drink it all in.

"Every day it seems like it's something new," he says. "It's exciting, but it's all happened so fast for me, I didn't even have the time to be intimidated or uncertain."

That's good, because this is no time for intimidation or uncertainty. Martin, the outstanding 26-year-old catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, finds his team in a bit of a tough spot. The Dodgers are down 0-2 to the Philadelphia Phillies in their National League Championship Series, looking at a critical Game 3 tonight at Dodger Stadium.

Born Russell Nathan Jeanson Coltrane Martin, Jr., in Toronto on Feb. 15, 1983, Martin has been a rolling stone ever since. His dad, Russell, is a jazz saxophonist and his mother, Susanne Jeanson is a Franco-Manitoban who now lives in the Outaouais region of Quebec near Ottawa. They've been divorced for many years but each still plays a key role in their son's life.

Though born in Toronto, Russell, Jr., has lived all over the map, from Winnipeg, to Chelsea, Que., to Montreal, to Paris, France. And that was before he even started his trek to the big leagues.

His apprenticeship began with sandlot baseball in Montreal where, at the age of eight, he was playing with boys years older. By the time he was of high-school age, he was at Polyvalent Edouard-Montpetit in Montreal where he was accepted into Quebec's stellar Sports-Etudes program and was on the radar of the Montreal Expos. They drafted him as a teenager but Martin chose to go to Chipola Junior College in Florida. It was there that the L.A. scouts began to keep an eye on him and they grabbed him in the 17th round of the 2002 draft.

Martin grew up a third baseman but the Dodgers immediately moved him to catcher and, in his own words, he was a "sponge," soaking up knowledge every day of his minor-league life.

"Becoming a catcher not only found me a home defensively in pro ball, but it really taught me more about hitting than I could imagine," he says. "Working together with pitchers strategizing how to get hitters out gave me a much better approach offensively at the plate."

It took him four years in the low minors to learn his lessons but by the end of the 2005 season things were beginning to happen. Coming off a strong year at double-A, Martin made the difficult decision not to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. The Dodgers had promised him a long look to make the big team but wouldn't make any promises if he went to the Classic.

Though he didn't break camp in 2006 with the Dodgers, he spent only a few games in triple-A before he was summoned to replace the injured Dioner Navarro. Next thing Navarro knew, he had been traded to Tampa, clearing the way for Martin.

"I think it was the right decision," he said. "It was definitely tough saying no, to not going to represent your own country. It was something that might not come around again. The next go-round, hopefully I'll be healthy and ready to go."

That will happen next spring and Martin is very much looking forward to joining the rowdy bunch known as Team Canada.

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In two-plus years in the majors, Martin has hit .285, with 42 homers and 221 RBIs, scored 239 times and stolen 49 bases. Defensively, he controls the opposition's running game, handles pitchers with skill and enthusiasm and has shown himself to be a leader.

One thing the Dodgers are looking at is Martin's propensity to wear down late in the season. In both his full years in the majors -- 2007 and 2008 -- his numbers have deteriorated in the second half. There is a belief by some in the organization that it might be in the team's, and Martin's, long-term interest to move him back to third base where he still is skillful enough to do the job. He has been compared to a young Craig Biggio, who came up as a catcher but stayed in the big leagues for 20 years and probably is going to the Hall of Fame as an infielder.

"He has got the ability, I think, to hit .320-plus in this league, or in any league, because of his ability to use the whole field," manager Joe Torre said. "He'll hit some home runs. He'll probably hit 20-plus because he hits the ball so hard, so often. This year you didn't see that from him, but I have a great deal of confidence that if he stays healthy that he's going to be a special catcher for a long time."

But that's a discussion for another day. Tonight, the Dodgers have their hands full just keeping their hopes alive against a Phillies team that comes at you fast, just like Russell Martin.


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