James Burns: Predator enjoys break from hunt

June 30, 2009 

DOS PALOS -- Cody Martin hopped behind the wheel of his blue GMC truck and raced the morning sun toward Los Banos.

He had a boat to catch.

In shorts, the first T-shirt he could find and a pair of sandals, Martin helped his uncle, Dan Martin, lower his bass boat into the cool of San Luis Creek.

The Predator -- a childhood nickname that has stuck with Martin, following him from Dos Palos to Spokane, Wash. -- usually excels at the hunt.

It's what predators do. Except, of course, when they're on vacation.

Martin never approached his limit Monday morning. In fact, the only bass he caught was by mistake.

From the rear of the boat, he flipped his line toward the bow, where his uncle was casting.

Like a wise guy.

As he reeled the hook back in, his line began to tug and dance.

"We didn't catch much," Martin said. "Too hot."

And that's OK.

He wasn't in it for the prize. He fishes because it's relaxing, a peaceful getaway for the men of the Martin family. Largely, though, he fishes because it's a break from his full-time job: baseball.

The sophomore pitcher at Gonzaga University is on the road again today, bound for a summer stint with the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League.

These next few months are important for the former Dos Palos star.

Martin will be eligible for the Major League Baseball draft next June and a strong showing in a wooden-bat league could boost his draft stock.

"You get a lot of exposure. Scouts get to see how you throw against a wood bat," Martin said of the reigning national champs. "It's exciting, but it can be exhausting."

Experiences like this help Martin appreciate his small-town roots and the rare breaks in his jet-setting schedule.

For four blissfully uneventful days, life moved at a snail's pace, free from tryouts and auditions, relief appearances and save opportunities.

Martin came home.

Back to Dos Palos.

Back to a place of anonymity, slippers and spaghetti dinners.

"It's nice," he said on Monday during the final paces of his home vacation. "It's relaxing. I love my time off. I've been going since Sept. 1, every day, six days a week.

"It's what I signed up to do. It's what I've been preparing for all these years. Still, it's nice to have these days off. I haven't been doing anything, baseball-wise."

It's true.

He traded in a mitt for a golfing glove and took advantage of the twilight rates at Chowchilla's Pheasant Run Golf Club.

He spent one evening indoors, trading slams with his father, Chuck, on the ping-pong table.

The two later watched a movie and Sportscenter, exchanged points on the NBA draft, before conversations turned back to baseball.

"It's always in the conversation," Martin said. "It's nice to come home and talk face to face. It's where it all started for me."

Baseball took on an around-the-clock feel this past year for Martin, the anchor of Dos Palos' last two Valley championship baseball teams.

The 6-foot-2 righty proved to be the ultimate weapon for a Gonzaga club that won the West Coast Conference and clinched a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Martin began his sophomore season in the starting rotation, but was forced back into the closer's role after just four weeks.

He led the team in ERA (3.07), paced all relievers with 68 strikeouts and finished with six saves and a 5-4 record.

And then came the call.

Martin was asked to tryout for Team USA, an invitation extended to the best 41 underclassmen in the country.

The 10-day camp in Cary, N.C., culminated last week on a sour note.

Martin was superb in two appearances as a starter -- giving up one run on two hits in 6 2/3 innings -- but left his last start with cramping in his throwing shoulder.

Ultimately, the injury cost him a roster spot with the national team. Team coaches told him as such in 1-on-1 meeting at the end of camp.

"It was pretty disappointing because I've never had anything wrong with my body," Martin said. "I think it was from fatigue. It finally got to me on the last day.

"I pulled myself out because I didn't want to ruin my career over anything like this. It was meant to be."

Martin needed rest.

His body was suffering from baseball burnout.

He needed the slow-down days of home and a rod-and-reel.

If only for four days.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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