Cullman’s pitchers received plenty of praise for the Bearcats’ Class 5A state title run this spring.
And deservedly so.
However, ask any of Auston Neal, Jesse Scott, Sam Huser or Branch Hill, and they’d each say they couldn’t have done what the Black and Gold did without some pretty good help guiding them along the way.
Enter Cristian Martinez.
The soft-spoken senior didn’t always get recognized for the work he put in behind home plate — framing pitches, gunning down would-be base stealers or blocking errant throws — but the Dominican Republic native was never really big into praise or fame, either.
On Friday, Martinez let his pen do all the talking, as he inked on to attend and play baseball at Snead State College while in the company of family, friends, coaches and administrators.
“It’s amazing,” he said of the moment. “I really can’t believe it. It’s like a dream come true.”
Martinez was a critical part of Cullman’s 42-12 state runner-up campaign. The backstop finished with a .286 average, five doubles, four home runs and 23 RBIs. He notched 15 walks as opposed to just 12 strikeouts en route to a fine .389 on-base percentage for the Bearcats.
On defense, he committed only two errors in 242 chances, a feat coach Brent Patterson knows is just the tip of the iceberg when its comes to the gifted Martinez.
“It often goes unnoticed some of the stuff he did,” the coach said. “I had several coaches tell us how great he was. When we played Hartselle, coach (William) Booth told me after the game, ‘Cristian Martinez is amazing.’ He does what good players need to do. For our pitchers to be able to throw a two-strike slider in the dirt and be comfortable about doing it, it brings an element to our game.”
It was a big change for Martinez when he moved to Cullman a couple of years ago. He couldn’t speak much English and really struggled to get into the flow of school and baseball. However, some hard work and a lot of help from teammates and coaches enabled him get to where he is today.
As far as Snead goes, Martinez said he enjoyed meeting with coach Gerry Ledbetter — “he is a funny guy” — and is looking forward to reuniting with former Bearcats Jordan Guthrie and Jakob Kirkwood.
Patterson said he believes having some familiarity around him will help Martinez ease into yet another major transition.
“This was all a new experience for us,” Patterson said. “I think he’s really progressed in every possible way. For me, there’s an extraordinary difference in others and what he’s had to battle. I have a whole new kind of pride for him. It’s awesome to see.”
Martinez certainly couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out his senior season. After spending most of his first year in a reserve role, the Bearcat used his final days in a Black and Gold uniform to shine and give himself an opportunity of a lifetime.
He’ll almost assuredly take advantage of it as a better person and a better baseball player.
“I’m ready to get down there and work,” he said. “Like I said before, it’s just a dream for me. I’m proud of it.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at email@example.com.