HUNTLEY – Mason Martin does not want to wipe the picture from his memory, no matter how painful it remains.
Martin was right there, bobbing in the water Aug. 5, when his father, Roger, fell overboard from a boat, was struck by a propellor and died.
“I’m not someone who grieves and cries and gets all sad,” said Martin, a junior pitcher at Huntley. “I’m someone who likes to talk about it. This right here is like grieving for me. I try to stay positive with it and think about all the positives I can get out of it.”
Positives like the supportive father who was not “the crazy one who yelled when I was on the field,” but instead offered advice for improvement later when they got home.
Roger understood. As a former athlete himself, an Indiana University football player, he had seen both the good and bad of sports and then shared it with his son.
Martin, a right-hander who may not be in Huntley’s varsity rotation for the season, will be the Raiders’ opening-day starting pitcher at 4:30 p.m. today when they play host to DeKalb, if the field is dry enough. A decision will be made at 11 a.m. on whether the field is playable.
“He’s a great kid, a great human being and the kids love him,” Huntley baseball coach Andy Jakubowski said. “They value his integrity. They dedicated the season to his father, and [starting him] is the right thing to do.”
Jakubowski and his staff approached the other pitchers last week with their plan.
“Everybody jumped on it right away,” junior pitcher-shortstop Eric Luecht said. “We said it was the best idea we’ve heard in a while. We all really feel Mason deserves it.”
Roger Martin, 61, and his wife, Drecinda, have lived in Huntley since Mason was born. He had two sons – Jeremy and Josh – from a previous marriage, but he did not live with them and did not get to spend the father-son time teaching them sports. Although his job in food sales often had him traveling during the week, Drecinda said Roger did all he could with Mason regarding sports.
“They were super-close,” she said. “[Roger] felt this was his second opportunity to pay it back. He did everything they could together. They were best friends until the day he passed.”
Jeremy Martin’s son River, 13, had finished his second summer at Culver (Ind.) Military School’s summer camp for the second year last August when the entire Martin family came to Culver to celebrate. Roger’s ex-wife’s daughter Amanda and Mason were tubing behind a boat carrying Roger and several family members.
Mason and Amanda fell off their tubes and when the boat turned to get them, Roger, sitting on the side, fell into the water. Jakubowski was shocked when he received a text message from Brian Liebman, the father of former Huntley players, about Roger’s death.
The coach learned a lot about Mason Martin then.
“I was beside myself," Jakubowski said. "I called Mason and left him a message. When he called me back, he was calm, cool and collected. He said, ‘I’m OK and I’m going to get through this.’ It goes to show the character of the kid.”
Martin figures immersing himself further into baseball is what his father would expect.
“I’m more dedicated to the game and sports because that’s what he loved and that’s what he would have wanted me to do, to be dedicated and go all out,” Mason said.
Baseball has played an integral part in Martin’s psychological recovery.
“It’s kept my mind off of it,” said Martin, who wants to pitch in college. “If I’m going to sit at home and play video games and watch TV, a lot more is going to run through my mind and I’m going to think about it more. If I’m here with my teammates, and I’m playing the game I love, I’m not going to think about it as much.”
Huntley’s players inscribed “RM” in black marker on the left side of their caps in honor of Roger Martin. Luecht says Martin never will lack for support.
“He sort of needed someone there to be that backbone for him,” Luecht said. “... We try to carry him along, keep his chin up and keep him laughing. He’s a good kid. He’ll be fine.”
If the field is fit for play, Mason Martin will take the mound this afternoon, try to turn off all the thoughts bouncing around his head and “pitch his game.” He might be a little quieter than normal before the game, but doesn’t expect to get overly emotional.
“For coach J. to bring it up to the pitchers and for them to do this means the world to me,” Martin said. “That means they care about me and my situation.
"They trust me that I’m going to go out and do OK. It’ll be my first high school game without him; it’s going to be tough. I’ll have a lot of fans supporting me. Maybe mentally I’ll be a little down, but it’ll be all right overall.”