UT Tyler junior third baseman T.J. Martin enjoyed quite a weekend last week; the type of performance garnered extraordinarily high praise.
Patriots coach Paul Wyczawski said, “He could play big-league baseball right now defensively.”
UT Tyler starting pitcher Bryan Share went so far as to say, “He’s by far the best player I’ve played with or even seen.”
Martin had a solid weekend at the plate, collecting four hits in 15 at-bats, but it was his defense that had everyone buzzing following the Patriots’ 2-1 series victory over Hardin-Simmons in the first round of the American Southwest Conference tournament.
After cruising to a 10-0 win in Game 1, UT Tyler and Hardin-Simmons played a pair of classics the next day with the Cowboys earning a 6-5, 14-inning win to force a third game, which the Patriots ultimately won 3-1.
Martin, who was only 2 for 11 in the final two games, was named the series’ Most Outstanding Player for his sparkling glove work at third.
“To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had that great of a weekend than this past weekend,” Martin said. “I can have my pitchers think that if they get me a ground ball, I can make play the play. After the first couple, you just get in this groove where any ball that’s hit to me I think I can get.”
And he got all of them; all 17 balls hit his way. Some routine, some spectacular.
“It’s called the hot corner for a reason, so you’ve got to have quick reactions,” Martin said. “For me, I always think about where I need to throw the ball right before the pitch is thrown, whether it’s a double play or just a routine ball to first. I know in the back of my mind exactly where I’m going with the ball.
“You’ve got to have good hands and you’ve got to have quick feet as well to be able to have range to your left, right or down the line.”
There are a lot of qualities — instincts, quick reaction time, arm strength, athleticism — that make a good defensive third baseman and Wyczawski said Martin has them all.
“Number one, he makes the routine play routinely,” Wyczawski said. “Number two, he makes the exceptional play routinely. Number three, he does it consistently week after week. It’s unbelievable.”
There’s no telling how many runs the defensive play of Martin, who enjoys studying Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, has saved this season.
“I’d hate to say, but I bet you if you ask our pitchers they could tell you,” Wyczawski said.
And even though Martin, a fixture in the middle of the UT Tyler lineup, is batting .367 with 36 RBIs, Wyczawski said his third baseman takes even more pride in fielding his position.
“Whenever he gets a chance to get out here, he truly loves fielding and it’s always, ‘Coach, can we get more ground balls, can you hit me more ground balls?’” Wyczawski said. “Most guys, all they want to do is hit. T.J. just really enjoys that phase (defense) of the game. He loves to field a ground ball.”
The championship round of the ASC tournament, which begins today, will be decided on an artificial surface and Martin knows exactly what to expect: truer bounces, but higher velocity.
“As far as the infield being turf, almost every ground ball will be a true hop; I don’t have to worry about bad hops,” he said. “I’ve moved up closer to the plate in practice. We play on grass here, so I move up a little closer just to make sure it gets to me a little faster. That way I maybe get a little bit better reaction.”
NOTES: No. 20 UT Tyler (33-10) and No. 16 Concordia Texas (33-9), who have combined to win the last three ASC titles, meet at 7 p.m. today from Concordia’s Tornado Field in Austin in the second of two games in the championship round of the ASC tournament. The winner of the three-day, double-elimination tourney receives an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Concordia took two of three from the Patriots on Feb. 24-25 in Tyler.
American Southwest Conference Baseball Tournament
Hosted By Concordia
At Tornado Field, Austin
Game 5: McMurry (21-22) vs. Mississippi College (20-22), 3 p.m.
Game 6: UT Tyler (33-10) vs. Concordia Texas (33-9), 7 p.m.
Game 7: Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 7 p.m.
Game 10 (Championship): Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 11 (If necessary): 30 minutes after Game 10, TBD