Richie Martin began the 2014 season hitting leadoff for the Florida Gators and for the first 29 games struggled to acclimate to the role.
Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan downplays how hitting lead off can affect you, “in reality the lead off spot may only lead off once during the whole nine-inning game,” he said. However, Harrison Bader — who led off some as a freshman — knows it takes a different approach.
“It’s really difficult, it really is,” said Bader. “Especially your first at bat, being the guinea pig.”
Hitting well below .250 in the leadoff slot, Martin moved down in to second in the order for the final 39 games of the 2014 season, seeing a brief resurgence in his hitting numbers before finishing the season out hitting just .265 after a .300 mark in his freshman season. Martin especially struggled at the end of the season going just 5-29 (.172) in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regional. He had never had to deal with that kind of failure before and it took its toll.
The way Florida’s season ended and the part he played in that left Martin unsatisfied but without answers. He turned to friends and coaches for advice and he got the help he needed in a strange place.
Baseball is a unique game. It’s one of the only games in the world where someone can fail seven times out of ten and be considered successful at their job. If Martin gets three hits in 10 at bats he’s hitting .300, pretty good. If you finished three out of every 10 assignments at work, you’d probably be looking for a new job pretty quick.
Dealing with failure, remaining confident and being mentally resilient is an integral part of being a successful player and it’s something Martin needed to work on.
“I think I worked on things and I got a little bigger and worked on the mental side of my game. I think that’s one of the biggest things that helped me,” he said. “Just realizing that your mind can affect you so much in any sport. I just tried to kind of tame my thinking and thought process when I’m out there competing.”
So what did he do? He found a book, The Inner Game of Tennis.
“I know it sounds crazy,” said Martin. “The first person that told me to read that I was like, ‘are you serious?’ But I read it and when I did that thing was a game changer for me.”
How does a book about tennis make you a better baseball player?
“It’s about tennis but it was more about just relaxing and not getting in the way of yourself, just going out there and playing,” Martin said.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to take his word for it or even try to make sense out of it; because it worked.
Martin went into the Cape Cod league this summer and tore the cover off of the ball with the Bourne Braves. He finished second in the league — and first on the team — with a .364 batting average, while placing first in the league in hits (59) and runs (36). Martin finished the season with an incredible streak of 39-consecutive games reaching base.
“I have seen some growth maturity wise but he’s always been a great player, a really hard worker,” O’Sullivan said. “And he just turned 20.”
Martin is young for being a junior in college. He’ll likely be the youngest college prospect to enter the MLB Draft this year and the season he just had in the Cape — rated the No. 8 prospect on the Cape by Baseball America — has made his draft stock soar.
The MLB Draft can wait. Martin has some business to finish at Florida first. He’s likely to return to the leadoff role that he struggled with last season and even though he’s a young junior, will be asked to lead the Gators who have a goal of getting to Omaha this season.
“He had a great summer in the Cape Cod league, he had a great fall and he’s off to a great start this spring,” O’Sullivan said. “For us to get where we need to get to he’s going to have to have a great spring and I fully expect him to do that.”