Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Sports

Former Bloomingdale standout extends his success with the Gators

GAINESVILLE — Since he learned multiplication tables as a kindergartener, Richie Martin has been a humble overachiever.

He skipped second grade. He got a 720 out of 800 on the math portion of the SAT. In two semesters at the University of Florida, he has already conquered Calculus II and Calculus III.

And he continues to add up successes on the baseball field.

The 18-year-old Bloomingdale High graduate has helped propel the Gator baseball team as it surges toward the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the end of the month.

Since returning from a fractured finger a month ago, the freshman has played a key role in boosting the Gators after a slow start. The team entered a three-game weekend series against LSU Thursday with a record of 25-20, 12-9 in league play after starting the season 11-16.

A family lineage and an early love of the game helped fuel his success on the diamond.

Before him, his maternal grandfather played in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. Since he was 3, Martin has stepped up to plates of his own, starting with T-ball at Bloomingdale Little League.

When he turned 10, soccer and basketball dropped off his grid and he played up an age with the Bloomingdale Classics, a team his father coached.

Then came Chet Lemon's Juice travel team and high school baseball under coach Chris Wilkins.

The Seattle Mariners selected him in the 38th round, but he chose UF over a professional contract because he actually likes school.

"The money wasn't enough to overcome the school atmosphere," Martin said. "I mean, I like school to tell you the truth. I like math. So I thought giving that up, I don't know what I would do without it.

"I don't know what I would be doing if I was just playing baseball for a living yet. I don't think I was mature enough to just go off and 'that's my life now.' "

Martin is coy when he speaks, peering from under the lip of his sweat- and dirt-stained Florida cap. His humility is obvious when he fiddles with his hands and says, "I don't really like to talk about myself that much."

Teammate and road roommate Taylor Gushue said humility defines Martin.

"He doesn't say too much but he does all his talking on the field, that's for sure," Gushue said. "He's so much fun to be around because of that."

When Gushue thinks of him, the aftermath of Martin's first breakout play at UF comes to mind.

"He got up and he did this like fist-pump thing and it was so Richie," Gushue said. "It felt like a highlight video. It was just funny because that's like his personality."

The freshman started the first 12 games at shortstop until he was injured March 3.

Martin said he found sitting in the dugout, unable to contribute to his team, extremely frustrating.

Gushue said although Martin couldn't play, he was still analyzing opponents, advising teammates and absorbing as much as he could about baseball.

Since his return, Martin has proved his athleticism by providing solid defense in centerfield as his finger heals completely. The Gators have gone 11-4 since his return, after a stumbling start to the season in February.

The recent success included a return to Tampa. The Gators took on USF on the field, where Martin almost chose to extend his career and came away with a 12-1 victory that snapped a 12-game Bulls win streak.

Martin, who's hitting .286, drove in a career-high four runs.

Now the Gators' baseball games are being broadcast again and Martin's friends text him when they see him on TV. The reporters are shoving recorders and microphones in front of his genuine, gap-toothed smile again.

"I honestly don't care where I play as long as I'm on the field and can help my team," Martin said. "It just seems like everything is starting to come together now."

Kelly Price can be reached at [email protected]

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