BY MATT MARTZ Special to The Californian
There is nothing like coming home, just ask Jarret Martin.
The Los Angeles Dodgers prospect, and former Centennial and Bakersfield College baseball standout, will celebrate a sort of homecoming this weekend at Sam Lynn Ballpark, as the Dodgers' Class-A affiliate Rancho Cucamonga Quakes open a four-game California League series tonight against the Bakersfield Blaze.
"Being able to experience coming back to Sam Lynn, where I've played so many games in high school and college, is kind of exciting," Martin said.
The 6-foot-3 left-hander's luck has been good at the dusty old diamond, too. His Centennial team won the 2006 Terrio Therapy Spring Classic in his sophomore season, and he also pitched there while playing for BC, whose home field was undergoing upgrades during the 2009 season.
"It's something very shocking from where I started in my career," Martin said. "I just always thought I would never really get a chance, besides maybe inter-league play, to ever play on the West Coast."
That's because up until Dec. 8, 2011, Martin was a prospect for the Baltimore Orioles, who drafted him first in 2008 out of high school, and again in 2009 when he was at BC. Martin spent two seasons in the Baltimore farm system before being dealt to the Dodgers, along with outfielder Tyler Henson, for left-handed pitcher Dana Eveland.
For Martin, who was vacationing with his fiance in Hawaii at the time, that trade was a dream come true. And when the phone rang at 5 a.m. Hawaii time, Martin woke up, sat up, cleared his throat and answered.
"It was more exciting being traded than being drafted," he said. "I actually grew up a Dodgers fan, and I kind of lost my breath for a second when I found out that I was going to get to play for my childhood team."
"It was hard to believe, to be honest."
But disbelief quickly turned to reality when the Dodgers immediately invited Martin to their Young Guns Camp with their other top pitching prospects.
From there, Martin posted a respectable 4.29 ERA scattered over 16 games with the franchise's Class A-affiliate Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons of the Midwest League, before being assigned to the Quakes on Aug. 12.
Since then, Martin has appeared in just two games. He is not slated to start in Bakersfield this weekend, but could pitch out of the bullpen.
His appearances include a three-inning stint against Stockton, and a 2/3-inning appearance at Lancaster on Aug. 20, where he was sharply introduced to the "hitter-friendly" Cal League.
"It wasn't my best start, and I got roughed up a bit," said Martin who allowed five earned runs, including two homers by the league's second-best hitting team.
"I found out the hard way that the rumors about the Cal League being friendly to batters are true."
Nevertheless, Martin, 23, knows the minor league life all too well, and says his journey has been everything he has imagined, including the ups and downs.
"I've moved a little slow, but it's been great," Martin said. "I have gotten to travel all over the U.S., doing what I love."
With just one year of college baseball under his belt, Martin admits that he has had to learn a lot about playing ball at a professional level. And that's not easy, especially for a starting pitcher.
But Martin's improved, not only his control, but his velocity. His fastball has gone from the 89-92 mph range to 91-95 mph, occasionally peaking at 96. That velocity is something he hopes will carry him closer to his major league dream.
"If I can go out and put together a couple of solid seasons," Martin said, "I expect to be pitching for the Dodgers no later than 2015."