Feb. 12, 2012
By Jon Cooper
– In practices leading up to the start of the season, Evan Martin has been taking grounders at second base, he’s taking fly balls in the outfield, he’s taking extra swings early, he’s taking extra swings late.
Were he playing basketball he’d be labeled “A Gym Rat.”
Since baseball players play on a field, not in a gym and “Field Mouse” doesn’t really cut it as a nickname, Martin’s nickname has been shortened to “The Rat.”
He’s not sure how he got the monicker or even who gave it to him, but he does know that it started as a freshman and that it took some getting used to.
“At first, I didn’t like it and kind of got upset about it. That made people use it even more,” he said. “But as the year went on, I started to embrace it and now I like it.”
Not even Head Coach Danny Hall can pin down the exact origin of the nickname.
“I don’t know if it was one of my assistant coaches but all of a sudden somebody hung on it on him and it stuck. It’s stuck like glue,” said Hall, with a laugh.
While the nickname’s origin remains unknown, what is known is Martin, a Woodstock, Ga., native will be filling a valuable role for the 2012 Yellow Jackets in his senior season.
“I’m going to be filling in wherever they need me,” said Martin, a three-time ACC Academic Honor Roller. “I like the feeling that I’m not pin-pointed into one particular position, where I can get thrown into virtually any situation that they need me, besides first and catcher.”
Dean Martin of the famous ’60s entertainers clique The Rat Pack once sang, “How lucky can one guy be?” Hall might be asking himself the same question about having this rat, coincidentally named Martin, in his pack.
“One of those guys that’s easy to over-look, but every time he goes out there it seems like he gets two hits is Evan Martin,” Hall said. “He came off the bench and pretty much was a pinch-hitter for us last year, played him some at second. he’s played in the outfield. His nickname is ‘The Rat’ and it’s a great nickname just because he is a rat.”
The smallest player on the roster — he’s listed at 5-9, 160 — Martin has given Hall other ways to measure his value.
“He competes very big. That’s probably the thing I like about him,” said Hall. “He’s very versatile. He’s been a very valuable team member. He works hard at everything he does. He’s a Dean’s List student, so he’s paying the price definitely academically. I know that he really has to devote a lot of time to his academics and I think he’s playing as well as he can possibly play right now. As a result I think he’s going to get some opportunities to play.”
Martin is excited about those potential opportunities and seeing his hard work is pay off.
“I’m somebody that’s going to scrap for everything I get,” he said. “I’m not going to be somebody you’re going to count on to hit a long ball. But I’ll go in and try to raise hell on pitchers. Just work at-bats, take my walks when I get them, and just battle.”
Ironically, it was a home run last March 26th at Miami that turned Martin’s junior season, and maybe his college career, around.
With the two out, one on and the score tied, 3-3 in the top of the 10th, Martin pinch-hit for left-handed power-hitting Daniel Palka, setting up a righty-lefty match-up against Miami closer Daniel Miranda. Martin had one hit in his 10 plate appearances and was facing the hard-throwing lefty, who would finish second in the ACC in saves.
Things would change drastically in a hurry.
“I figure it was due to preparation,” Martin said. “I had seen him throw to the batters before me, saw how he was pitching to them. I looked at the scouting report and went at him with a plan. He did exactly what I wanted and what I was looking for.”
That was throw a first-pitch change-up. Martin put a good swing on it and deposited the pitch over the wall in left field.
“I didn’t even realize it got over until I had rounded second base,” he said. “I had to make sure it had gone over because it went over the spot that had a white banner in front of it. So I didn’t even know until I was halfway to third base. Once I realized it was, it was the best feeling in the world.”
Tech added seven more runs and took a 12-3 victory. They’d complete the sweep the next day.
“I think it was big for him and it was huge for us because it propelled us to win a game at Miami and we ended up sweeping them down there,” said Hall. “On the road in the ACC victories are hard to come by, particularly at Miami. So I think it helped his confidence and just gave us a tremendous shot in the arm.”
Martin hit one more home run and almost had another game-changer on May 13 against North Carolina, but his ninth-inning, game-tying bid was brought back by Tar Heels left fielder Chaz Frank.
Frank’s catch may have denied Martin his first multi-hit game of the season — he’d hit a two-out RBI single two innings earlier — but that would be a minor setback, as Martin would hit in four of his final five appearances down the stretch.
That springboarded him into his senior year, where he’s taking a more relaxed mental approach. From here on, Martin will simply go out to play for the love of the game.
“I’m not trying to put too much stress onto myself,” he said. “I know in the past, I’ve been my own worst critic. After every at-bat I’d come back and think about what I did wrong and be constantly thinking instead of going out and playing and having confidence in my ability. I just have to go out and do what I can and leave it all out there.
“I’m going to try and enjoy every single minute.”