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Musick: New season, new swing for Prairie Ridge grad Martini

Published: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 12:14 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 12:29 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Nick Martini demonstrates a swing Wednesday while working with the Cary Junior High baseball team at The Power Alley in Car. Martini was a star baseball player at Prairie Ridge and Kansas State and is now in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor-league system. He's back in McHenry County working with young players and getting ready for another baseball season.

CARY – For a brief moment, I thought Nick Martini was a genius.

Martini, a 2008 Prairie Ridge graduate who is a minor-league outfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals, was explaining the details of his offseason hitting program.

“The machine gets up to 72 [mph],” said Martini, who has spent the winter working out at The Power Alley’s batting cages near Route 14 and Three Oaks Road. “But we put it at like 45 feet, so the reaction time is equivalent to the 90s.”

Hang on.

Was Martini aiming for MLB when he really should have been teaching math at MIT?

“I had to Google it,” Martini said with a laugh. “I looked up ‘baseball reaction time,’ and it gave me a huge list of miles per hour and feet.”

If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably heard of the Dead Ball Era, the Expansion Era and the Steroid Era, just to name a few. Who knows? Generations from now, maybe this period of baseball will be remembered as the dawn of the Google Era.

Or maybe baseball is no more complex today than it was 100 years ago. Because a big part of what ultimately makes a big leaguer is sweat, not a search engine.

Martini has devoted plenty of sweat to his offseason workouts back home in McHenry County. A typical day includes about two hours of batting practice in the morning, a workout in the afternoon, and two-plus hours of coaching at night.

Three weeks from now, the setting will change, but the mission will stay the same. Martini will head to the Cardinals’ spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla., where he will spend three more weeks before learning his minor-league assignment.

At minimum, Martini’s goal is to start the season with the Advanced-A Palm Beach Cardinals and to earn at least one promotion during the season. But he knows that nothing is promised, and he knows that

all he can do is work hard and stay positive.

“You’ve definitely got to pay your dues,” Martini said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Perspective comes easily by now for Martini, a 23-year-old who won a state title with Prairie Ridge and earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors at Kansas State. The Cardinals selected Martini in the seventh round in June 2011, and he has spent his first two full seasons in the Midwest League, first for the Quad Cities River Bandits and then for the Peoria Chiefs after the Cardinals switched Single-A affiliates.

In 106 games last year, Martini hit .252 with two home runs, 36 RBIs and nine stolen bases. He drew 40 walks with a sharp eye at the plate and notched nine assists with a strong arm in right field, but he was eager to improve his power production.

This winter, Martini said, he has changed his swing to help achieve that goal. He has lowered his hands to be closer to the strike zone and focused more on his lower half.

“It’s basically [aiming for] more extra base hits in general,” Martini said. “I realize I’m not going to go hit 30 home runs this year, but if I could hit 30 doubles and basically drive the gaps more consistently, then that’s what I’m looking for.”

As a smart, compact, left-handed hitter, Martini (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) aims for consistent contact and a high on-base percentage. Yet a grueling summer of baseball is filled with slumps and streaks, which Martini knows as well as anyone.

After a bad game or a rough series, Martini might pop in a movie to ease his mind. He has watched “Wedding Crashers” and “Superbad” too many times to admit.

Martini said his advice to the next crop of draftees would be simple.

“The mental part is the hardest,” Martini said. “Regardless of how good you are or the things you’ve accomplished, you’re going to fail. Because it’s basically a bunch of No. 1 [pitchers] from every high school or college going to play, and all No. 3 hitters going to play. If you’re strong enough mentally, you can handle those failures.”

And when things go well?

“When you’re riding a big hitting streak, you show up like, ‘Wow, I’m going to drill a few balls today regardless of whether they’re hits or not,’ ” Martini said. “I really don’t think there’s any better feeling, to be honest.

“That’s kind of the same thing you’ve got to take when you’re failing, though. You’ve got to have that same mindset.”

A strong mind and a smooth swing could take Martini far.

Well, that, along with the help of Google.

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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