Martin, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound catcher and designated hitter, was regularly hitting balls over the outfield wall during batting practice at the Miners’ stadium in Palmer, a town about 45 miles north of Anchorage.
Everyone knew the power was there, but what was surprising was seeing Martin perform.
“I didn’t have any home runs going into the home run derby,” Martin said. “I played early in the season, but wasn’t playing much near midseason. My batting average was around .130 to .150, but the organization gave me a chance at the home run derby to see if I could put it together.”
Martin did that, and much more.
Competing against many of the league’s top home run hitters, the former Harrison standout and member of the Hoyas’ 2010 Class AAAAA state championship team, belted six homers in the championship round and totaled 12 to capture the league’s inaugural home run derby.
After Martin defeated the Peninsula Oilers’ Patrick Wilson — the league leader in home runs — he was presented an engraved plague symbolizing his achievement. His name will also be the first one engraved on the home run derby trophy.
“Going into the derby I knew there were a lot of good guys in the league that could really hit,” said Martin, a rising sophomore at Western Carolina. “I felt good, but there were definitely guys better than me. But I got into a groove.
“There were 14 guys to start, and they combined the home runs in the first two rounds to get the two guys in the finals. Patrick hit seven and I had six after the first two rounds, so we made the finals. Then I had six more in the finals.”
Martin thought Wilson would be able to at least tie him in the last round, but many of Wilson’s balls were deep fly outs to center field, eventually giving Martin the win.
“All of my teammates went crazy when I won,” he said. “It was crazy to me just winning it. I’ve been in home run derbies before, but it’s my first time winning one. My name is going to be engraved on the first annual home run derby trophy.”
Since then, Martin has blossomed with the Miners.
“My season has changed a lot since winning the home run derby,” he said. “I’m playing a lot more now, and I’ve started hitting the ball better. Everything’s really coming together and my batting average has gone up to about .230 to .250.”
Martin’s batting average is well below the numbers of his freshman season at Western Carolina, where he started 35 of 40 games and hit .291 with five home runs and 24 RBIs. But just like his slow start in the ABL, Martin had to warm up to the rigors of college baseball.
“College ball is a lot more than I expected,” he said. “It was tough to start out, but as I got going and got more at-bats and playing time, it got easier. It turned out to be a good year for us.”
The Catamounts finished 23-31-1, but made it to the third day of the Southern Conference tournament. That road included a 20-inning win over Elon in which Martin went 2-for-3 as a substitute.
It’s also turning out to be a good season for the Miners, the two-time defending ABL champions, who entered Friday 20-17-1 and second in the ABL standings at 18-15.
It’s been an effective stay for Martin in the ABL, considered a notch down from the prestigious Cape Code League in Massachusetts. In fact, the ABL can boast its own list of distinguished alumni, including Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Eric Karros, Mark McGwire, John Olerud and Dave Winfield.
“The Cape is considered the best, and then Alaska is the second-best,” Martin said. “It’s really an honor for an East Coast kid to play in this league.
“This is my first time to Alaska. Up here, it’s like a different postcard around every corner. So far, I’ve climbed a mountain, I’ve gone whitewater rafting and I’ve walked across a glacier. I’ve done a lot, and it’s been great.”