The last 10 months have been a whirlwind for Nick Martini.
On Aug. 5, playing in his first game at Wrigley Field, the place where he had seen countless Cubs’ games as a child growing up, he ripped a two-run, pinch-hit home run for the Oakland A’s in a loss to the Cubs.
About a dozen family members and friends went crazy in the front row of the left-field bleachers, right by the foul pole.
Twenty days later, he was designated for assignment, but picked up three days after that by the San Diego Padres. He again was DFA’d in November and picked up by the Cincinnati Reds. Then, he was DFA’d again on Jan. 8.
A week later, he was claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies, who also DFA’d him after they were in Clearwater, Florida for spring training. The Phillies then signed Martini to a minor-league deal after he cleared waivers and he rejoined them for what was left of spring training, before the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world of sports the monster of all curveballs, shutting down everything.
Martini, a 2008 Prairie Ridge graduate, returned to the Crystal Lake area and reconnected with his winter workout partner Elliot Soto, a 2007 Dundee-Crown graduate and a shortstop in the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. Martini and Soto were travel teammates before and during high school.
“It’s been probably the craziest year span of my career,” said Martini, who will be 30 next month, “not knowing where I’m going to be or what’s going to happen. This year I felt really good. I got a decent amount of chances in spring training and was healthy and feeling good and everything got taken away. I’m hopeful I’ll get another chance and I’ve been working hard on this time off.”
Fortunately, Martini and Soto, who started working out together about five years ago, have a place where they hit off of a machine, so they are seeing good velocity. And Martini does not have to worry about a place to lift weights, his father Scott has the ultimate of home gyms in his basement.
“It’s kind of hard to describe to somebody,” Nick Martini said. “There really is everything down there and you can do anything you want.”
Martini played center field and pitched for Prairie Ridge’s 2008 Class 4A state championship team. He went on to play three seasons at Kansas State and was taken in the seventh round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft by St. Louis. He played with the Cardinals’ organization through the 2017 season, then was signed by Oakland.
Martini, who hits and throws left-handed, found his spot with the A’s, making it to the major leagues in June of 2018 and eventually sticking. He often led off in manager Bob Melvin’s lineup because of his ability to work counts and his keen eyes for the strike zone. Martini led off in the AL Wild-Card Playoff game against the New York Yankees.
But early in 2019 spring training, Martini suffered a knee injury when a cleat caught on a warning track and he chased a foul ball. It set him back at least two months, and he eventually returned to the majors in late July.
Martini experiened that an unforgettable moment during his first at-bat at Wrigley, which went for 11 pitches against Cubs reliever Steve Cishek. Finally, with a full count, Martini turned on a slider and sent it into the right-center field seats while the front row in left field went berserk.
“That moment is kind of hard to describe,” Martini said. “After going there a lot as a kid and being able to play there is wild. You’re playing on a field that basically was your favorite place growing up. Then to hit a pinch-hit home run in your first at-bat there … there was no feeling at first. After the game I kind of got to take it in, the whole thing was crazy. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
Martini did not have the success he had in 2018 though, and was DFA’d in late August.
“When I came back last year, I never made an excuse, but there was never a day when I went to the field and I felt really good,” said Martini, who did not require surgery on the knee. “It took a long time to heal.”
Now, Martini has recovered and is eager for another shot at the big leagues. The Phillies have Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn on their 40-man roster as outfielders.
Martini and Soto get together most days and keep practicing their craft.
“It’s been good,” Martini said. “We bounce stuff off each other, things I’ve heard, things he’s heard. He’s turned a corner as well, it’s been good for both of us.
“I feel like my timing’s good, everything’s good. I’m ready to get rolling whenever they say it’s time to go.”