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After Being Jolted Back to Reality, He Plans to Return to School

Most of us are told from an early age that if we set our mind to it, anything is possible. Strive for the best, we’re told. Aim high. Think positive.

The Little Engine That Could didn’t get to the mountaintop by saying, “No can do.”

In sports, young athletes are inundated with the power of positive thinking. That’s good--to a point.

Always believing you can be the best has a tricky way of distorting reality. It’s one thing to follow your dream; it’s another to follow a delusion.

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Some are smart enough to know the difference.

Like many baseball players, Jon Martin had talked about being a major leaguer since he was 5 years old. His father, Jan, played in the Dodger organization, and his brother, Gregg, is a relief pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Class-A team in Dunedin, Fla.

In 1987, Jon Martin hit .467 during his senior year at Edison High and was drafted by the Mets in the 22nd round. He was offered a $5,000 signing bonus, which he turned down in part because “it was a really bad offer” and because he wanted to play at least two years of college baseball before turning pro.

He played one year at Golden West, then signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $30,000.

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Two weeks ago, Martin was released. At 22, after three seasons in Class-A ball, he says he’s lucky his release came when it did.

“For me, it helped me out because it helped me to focus,” said Martin, who last played first base for the Pirates’ Rookie League team in Bradenton, Fla. “For me, this (being out of baseball) is reality.”

Not that he was pleased to hear of his release. When he and three roommates heard the knock on the door the morning of April 4, each prayed it wouldn’t be him. Then Martin’s name was called.

He was in shock. He had the team’s highest batting average during spring training, and his recovery from July, 1989, elbow surgery seemed complete. But they told him, as they seemed to tell all those released, that he was “caught up in a numbers game"--there were too many younger, healthier players ready to take his place.

Martin called his father and cried.

“It’s hard to have someone tell you you can’t do what you love any more,” he says. “It’s hard to give up a dream.”

He’s not bitter about his release--"They gave me a shot,” he says--nor does he regret his decision to go pro before finishing college.

He admits that feeling has less to do with baseball, though, than it does with meeting his fiancee during the season in Florida.

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“If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t do it differently--I mean, I wouldn’t have met my future wife,” Martin said. “But for anyone else, I’d say definitely go to college.”

Which is what he’s planning to do now. Martin, who’s living with his parents in Long Beach, says he’ll enroll in summer school and attend a university in the fall. He’d like to study sports psychology or history and pursue a teaching and coaching career.

Gaining an education, he says, has always been important to him. But the dream of playing pro ball, he says, overshadowed everything else.

During his spring semester at Golden West, Martin, a B-plus student in high school, took easy classes to fulfill unit requirements--advanced racquetball, health, weightlifting, baseball theory and history of rock ‘n’ roll--in addition to marine biology.

He said being tabbed a “prospect” as a high school senior led him to believe there was only one subject in which to devote his energies--baseball.

“Once you get drafted, it all gets sort of thrown out of proportion. It’s like ‘Why work hard in school?’

“It’s hard to be honest with yourself. . . . It’s hard to be realistic when someone’s offering you money.”

Martin’s brother, Gregg, played four years at Northwestern before he signed with the Blue Jays. Gregg Martin earned an economics degree while at Northwestern, something his younger brother speaks about with pride, and a touch of envy.

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“He didn’t get the big bucks (in a signing bonus), but his education is worth a lot more,” Jon said. “He had to study his butt off, but it’s got to give you great peace of mind getting a college degree.”

When he arrived from Florida at his parents’ home last week, Martin watched a television special on life in the minor leagues. Instead of bringing him down, he said watching the show was therapeutic.

Especially when the narrator remarked that only three of 25 Class-A players ever reach the major leagues.

“It just reminded me that if I’m not going to make it in baseball, I’m better off getting out and getting back to school,” Martin said.

“Baseball’s something I did since I was 5. It turns out a lot different than you expect sometimes.”


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