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Tomase: Chris Martin's dad changed his life, and now he pitches in his memory

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – One by one, veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins asked his teammates on the 2014 Rockies to stand up and announce their draft round and signing bonus.

Then he got to 27-year-old rookie Chris Martin.

"I signed for negative-650 bucks," Martin said. "I had to pay for my plane ticket."

That line brought the house down, but Martin's teammates had no way of knowing how much history it contained. That $ 650 literally made Martin's career possible, and he was broke. The money belonged to his dad, a roofer who had always provided for his four kids in Texas even when times were tough.

Matt Martin didn't throw around $ 650 without a good reason, and Chris was afraid even to ask. But the Red Sox were holding a tryout camp in Fort Myers in 2011 and he had piqued their interest the previous summer with the now-defunct indy ball Texas AirHogs.

A torn labrum had seemingly ended Martin's career five years earlier, and he famously bounced between jobs at UPS and Lowe's without ever fully relinquishing his dream. So when the opportunity arose to give it one last shot, Martin asked his dad for the money.

Matt Martin agreed, but one condition -- he was going, too.


Twelve years later, the memory is a happy one, but it's also fraught with emotion. Matt Martin died last June after a lengthy illness. He was 64 years old. A month later, his son was traded from the Cubs to the Dodgers, where he simply dominated before landing a two-year, $ 17.5 million contract to serve as Alex Cora's primary setup man.


He can't help but wonder if his dad played a role in bringing him full circle and back to Boston.

"You know what's kind of crazy?" Martin said. "He's a big part of the reason why I was here in 2011. And now I'm back here in 2023, the year after he passes away, so I don't think it's a coincidence. This is where he wants me to be."

Not even Martin's Cubs teammates realized how trying his 2022 was. The 6-foot-8 right-hander posted a 4.31 ERA in 34 appearances, but he often found his mind drifting back to Arlington, Texas, where his dad was sick.

"This is the first time I've really even talked about this," Martin said. "I don't think many people knew last year. I kind of just tried to keep it under wraps. I was worrying a lot about my family, because everyone was taking care of him and I wasn't there. Some days, I just wasn't there mentally."

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When his father passed, the stress of worry was replaced by the pain of grief, but it allowed him to move forward. The trade to the Dodgers gave him a fresh start as he pitched in memory of the man who had raised him with the kind of tough love that made him his son's biggest critic, but also his biggest booster.

"He was always there for me, and I knew he was looking down and I definitely got help from him, I believe, once he passed," Martin said. "It's just a weird, weird, weird situation. I'm not trying to say that once he passed away, it was like, 'OK, it's fine,' but it just felt like a weight had been lifted. I knew he was in a better place."

His performance reflected his newfound peace. He posted a 1.46 ERA in 26 appearances with the Dodgers while posting the lowest walk rate in baseball. He added a pair of shutout innings in the playoffs, with his dad never far from his mind.

"He was my humble pie," Martin said. "He wouldn't really harp on the good, he would always let me know on the bad. Those are the things I miss. When I was doing something bad, he'd let me know, like, 'Hey, you need to do this.' Or the way I'm acting, he's like, 'Clean up your attitude.' Just things like that. He was never the, 'You're doing great!' type of guy. He was pretty hard on me. And I bet you if you go to 95 percent of this clubhouse, everybody's dad was just trying to make them better."

The two celebrated the 2021 World Series together, which Martin won as a member of the Braves. Matt Martin's obituary describes it as, "one of the greatest moments of his life."


Chris Martin believes he's back in Boston for a reason. The Red Sox paid his way and then some because they believe he can transform the back of their bullpen. He wants another ring, and he thinks his father had a hand in bringing him here.

"Hopefully we're here because he thinks we can win a championship," Martin said. "And hopefully he'll be there for the ride."