Kevin Martin: ’We’re just a normal baseball family’

Kevin Martin: ’We’re just a normal baseball family’Bruce Auld, a former Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent, is writing the history of Burroughs High School. The articles that are being published are excerpts from his upcoming book, exclusive to The News Review. Just days after the 2001 Burros played for the CIF SS Division title in Dodger Stadium, Kevin Martin (22) and younger brother JD Martin (18) signed professional baseball contracts with the Cleveland Indians. “What I knew best was baseball,” (Dad) John Martin said. “So, I taught them what I knew best.” (John Martin to J. Hopps, Plain Dealer Reporter)

The Martin family baseball dynasty began in the early 1950s when John’s dad, Charles C. Martin, created a makeshift baseball field behind their home at 58 A Rowe Street out of leveled China Lake decomposed granite. John’s older brothers, David, Steve, Roger and younger brother “Duke” spent hours developing their skills with John on that humble field. Their days on that dirt field paid off. John’s oldest brother, Dave (BHS 1960), was a great catcher. The Cincinnati Reds invited Dave to catch for pre-game batting practice for the Reds in nine games between the Reds and the Dodgers in the LA Coliseum. Dave was offered a “no bonus” contract to play in the Reds organization, the first Burro to be offered a pro contract in any sport. Dave declined the offer, electing to attend San Diego State College. Dave had a long career in public school administration and educational consulting.

John displayed his athletic talent throughout his youth and was a perennial all-star baseball player throughout his pre- high school years. He was recruited as a free agent out of Bakersfield College by the same scout, Albe Pearson, that signed Tommy Mather. They both played a year apart for the Johnson City, New York Yankees. John also pitched in the minor leagues for the Anaheim Angels minor league affiliate, the Idaho Falls Angels. John credits learning his vicious curve ball to his childhood China Lake neighbor Gary Maxwell. Gary was an all-sport Burroughs athlete, playing on the 1958 state championship basketball team and legendary math teacher, sadly passing this year (2021). Returning to Ridgecrest after his professional baseball career, John is one of the most successful IWV youth athletic coaches and he is the first to acknowledge that it takes “the whole village” to get the boys to Dodger Stadium.

I recently interviewed John about local baseball and learned that he has written a book called The Last Camelot-US Navy’s Secret City. His book will be available at the upcoming all class reunion in November. John has a vivid recollection of all aspects of growing up China Lake, especially baseball.

Kevin Martin, John’s older son, graduated from Burroughs in 1997. He received the Burroughs Baseball Coach’s Award. He went on to study and play baseball at Cerro Coso, where in 1999 Cerro Coso was the Foothill League champions. Kevin was team captain, first team all-conference, played in the conference all-star game and graduated. Kevin was recruited to play baseball for Southern Colorado University, Pueblo.

In the spring of 2001, John Martin’s head must have been spinning. The Burroughs baseball team was earning their way to Dodger Stadium to play in the state championship game. Dad John and son John Dale were responding to hundreds of college recruitment calls and professional offers. Kevin was leading the University of Southern Colorado baseball team in an extraordinary season with a record of 45-14 and winning the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular season championship. Kevin had a record 17 pitching starts, ranked second all time with twelve wins and six completed games. He was first team Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and All West Division II Region Team. In 2002, Kevin was inducted into the University of Southern Colorado Diamond of Fame.

Kevin and his younger brother JD signed with the Cleveland Indians on the same day at Jacobs Field, Cleveland, Ohio. Kevin was signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Indians and over his four-year career played for five minor league teams. Kevin and Siena (BHS 1999 and a cheerleader) own KC Martin Construction Company. Their son Cole is Kevin’s legacy baseball player, a senior at the University of Southern Colorado. COVID canceled Burroughs baseball for a season. Several baseball families relocated their sons to play baseball, uninterrupted by COVID. Their son Kaden Martin is a high school senior baseball player at Saltillo High School in Saltillo, Mississippi. Kaden proudly wears a 2021 Mississippi State Baseball Championship ring. Daughter Campbell, is a sophomore volleyball player at Burroughs. (Kevin Martin)

JD Martin pitched for the Burros in the CIF SS baseball final on June 2, 2001. Kevin was in the bullpen at Dodger Stadium with Dad John watching his brother JD warm-up for the 2001 CIF Division IV final game. JD was named Desert Sky League and California Gatorade Player of the Year in 2001. Just three days after the CIF final game, on June 5, 2001, JD was a first round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians and played with the Cleveland organization for eight years. He underwent “Tommy John” (elbow) surgery in 2005, missing a portion of two seasons. JD played his last season with the Indians organization in 2008, playing for the Buffalo, New York Bisons. As a minor league free agent, JD signed with the Washington Nationals, pitching for the Syracuse Chiefs. JD was called-up to the Nationals, making his MLB pitching debut against the New York Mets on July 20, 2009. On August 9, 2009, JD posted his first major league win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitching five innings, giving up one run on five hits. The Nationals won 9-2. JD ended the season with a 5-4 record, with 37 strike-outs, 24 walks and an earned run average (ERA) of 4.44 with fifteen starts.

JD spent the 2011 season back with the Syracuse Chiefs, pitching in 30 games, including 14 starts, with an ERA of 3.93. JD would sign minor league contracts with eight MLB organizations. In 2014, JD led the Samsung Lions of the Korea Professional Baseball League, winning their 2014 World Series. On February 7, 2018, JD signed a minor league contract with LA Dodgers, his last. JD would have the longest professional baseball career (19 years) in Burrough’s history and the only Burro to play in the major leagues.

JD and Erin Smith were married in 2011 and reside in Las Vegas with children, son Tripp (7), son Tuck (5) and daughter Harley (6 months). Tripp and Tuck are just beginning their baseball careers, playing on the same team. JD currently works for a Ridgecrest original, the C. Martin Construction Company, now of North Las Vegas. (Excerpted from Wikipedia and interview with JD)

Still called “Coach” by the Junior Desert Dawg players, John is obviously proud of Kevin, JD and now his grandsons and their baseball achievements and subsequent business successes. John taught all of the Junior Desert Dawgs “what he knew best, baseball”. Interestingly, several Santa Clarita baseball players were impressed enough with Dawgs play, that they joined the team. John is also proud of the success of two of the Santa Clarita players he coached. Kyle Wilson was called up to pitch for the LA Dodgers. Billy Susdorf was called up by the Texas Rangers. Today, they both call John Martin “Coach.” (Interviews with the Martin family)

Courtesy photo: John Martin (center) with Keven (left) and JD on June 25, 2001. Kevin and JD had just signed professional baseball contracts with the Cleveland Indians.

Story First Published: 2021-10-15