Even if you have watched baseball for decades, you’re bound to see something you haven’t seen before, or perhaps something that happens only once in a blue moon.
On Saturday we get that unicorn, with 13-year major league veteran Russell Martin making his first career start at shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays in the middle game of their road series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
On its face a 35-year-old making his first start at shortstop is an oddity, since players generally tend to get slower as they age, often lacking the range required at one of the toughest positions on the diamond. It becomes even more noteworthy given that Martin is a catcher.
Catching is the most physically demanding position in the sport, and Martin has been doing it for 13 years in the majors. His 1,479 career games behind the plate are tied for the 35th-most in MLB history. My knees hurt just typing that.
Toronto has shortstop Aledmys Diaz on the 10-day disabled list, and the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki is still “a ways away” from returning, having not played since last July 28 with an ankle injury. Giovanni Urshela has been seeing the bulk of the time at shortstop for the Blue Jays, but on Saturday it’s Martin who finally gets his shot from manager John Gibbons.
Gibby: I think (Russ) can do it, I want to see him do it. Russ has good range, he’s got a good arm, he’s got everything, so we’ll send him out there. #Bluejays— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) May 26, 2018
Gibby: Watching (Martin) play third base, play a little second base the last couple of years, he’s been perfecto. Trust me, if I didn’t think he could do it, he wouldn’t be out there. #Bluejays— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) May 26, 2018
Martin is the first player with career starts at both catcher and shortstop since Dave Cochrane in 1991. Cochrane was a utility player who played for parts of five seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox who played 218 career games. He started 13 behind the plate and four at shortstop, and started at five other positions as well.
Those are the only two major league players to start at both catcher and shortstop dating back to 1980. Did I mention that Martin is 35?
Today is Russell Martin's 1555th career game. For careers started since 1913, the most Major League game played before starting at SS had been 1534 by Darrell Evans for SF on July 31, 1982 - courtesy Stats Inc.— Blue Jays PR (@BlueJaysPR) May 26, 2018
Martin has dabbled in other positions, starting 22 times at third base throughout his career. He started a game in right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, and played a total of seven innings over four games in reserve at second base with the New York Yankees and Blue Jays.
He lobbied to play shortstop in his early years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who drafted him as a second baseman in 2002 but played him in the middle infield just once in the minors, a single game at shortstop in the Gulf Coast League 16 years ago.
Martin wanted to play shortstop for Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and ultimately withdrew from the team when they wouldn’t let him. Four years later Martin was excited to play shortstop for Canada but offseason knee surgery forced him to withdraw again from the WBC.
Martin finally got his shot at short on May 15, though that was just one inning at the end of a 12-2 blowout loss to the New York Mets.
“I guess you could kind of call it a dream come true,” Martin said after that game, per MLB.com. “I wish the circumstances were a little bit different but I’ll remember the first day I ever played shortstop in the major leagues.”
Now, Martin has a start too.