The skinny freshman who once came within an out of pitching a no-hit perfect game in the state tournament is learning to refine and define his game, now making a pitch at Marshall University to learn the business of baseball…and life.
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When we first wrote about Wade Martin he was a freshman pitcher for the Division III Wheelersburg Pirates, making the most improbable start you can imagine in baseball.
Martin, all 5’10” and 170 pounds of him, was taking the mound in Huntington Park for the 2012 Division III OHSAA championship game against a very good Lima Central Catholic team, a group that had steamrolled its way through the tournament’s toughest bracket to what it believed to be championship destiny.
But on that afternoon Martin invoked some destiny of his own. He was perfect through the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and two outs into the seventh inning before finally giving up a flaired hit and a walk, the only blemishes on his day. He persevered to win, 1-0, and delivering Wheelersburg with its first championship in sixteen years.
A year later he paired with teammate Derek Moore to pitch the Pirates to a second consecutive title, defeating favored Bloom-Carroll in the title game, 5-4. Ironically, it was Moore who got the win in that game, in relief, to complete a perfect high school career of 36 wins…and no losses…as a pitcher.
Martin’s name and reputation as an up-and-coming prospect spread rapidly. Surely as he grew and matured his mid-80s fastball would continue to blossom, the command of his secondary pitches would continue to follow, and by his senior year the sky would be the limit.
Only, his fastball never did reach 90. And while his junior and senior seasons were good, they fell short of another coveted title for the Pirates…fell short of Martin signing as a professional.
Instead, he accepted an offer to cross the Ohio River and pitch for Marshall University, where as a freshman this past spring he learned that the next level of baseball is like the next levels of life…the stakes are greater, but so too is the competition.
“It was a great experience,” said Martin Saturday night, a day removed from pitching seven innings of two-run, three-hit baseball over the Cincinnati Steam in the Great Lakes Collegiate League. Martin plays for the Southern Ohio Copperheads, out of Athens, and that’s where we caught up with him.
“We had a very senior dominated pitching staff this year, a veteran team all-around, and I kind of felt like an outsider for the first time in my life. I started off kinda’ rough in the fall and early spring, and actually began to doubt myself, trying to do more or expand myself beyond what I was.
“But Coach Newman (pitching coach Josh Newman) kind of took me under his wing. We shared a lot of things in terms of how I pitched and how he had pitched. He gave me an opportunity to go to the bullpen and re-earn his trust after the rough start. I discovered again who I was as a pitcher.”
Martin’s story was anything but new. Armed with an average fastball for incoming freshmen in Division I baseball, he had to learn to refine his approach against the fastball-hungry hitters in Conference USA.
“Yeah, I kind of lost confidence at first, but then I realized that I could attack hitters with my best stuff and be successful. I learned a lot from our Friday night starter, Chase Boster. Don’t try to do more than you can. Just do what you can do to the best of your advantage.”
He finished the year with a 1-0 record in 17-plus innings, a 2.60 earned run average, and in middle of Coach Jeff Waggoner’s plans for him assuming a starting position come next spring. His summer in Athens pitching for the Copperheads is preparatory to his making that transition. The fastball velocity has crept higher, along with his physical maturation and confidence. The skinny freshman is now become 6’1” and 200 pounds!
“Coach Newman got me up here this summer to help me make that transition from the bullpen back to being a starter. Obviously it was my goal after this spring to take this opportunity to earn a spot in the starting rotation for the next three years. I’m retraining my body to go longer distances, refining my conditioning, changing my approach from pitching out of the bullpen for a couple of innings as hard as I could go. I’m stretching myself out now; I already knew how to do that from high school, but now I’m learning to get myself in a different kind of shape.”
A business administration major at Marshall, Martin has refined that part of his game, as well. He proudly shares that he finished his freshman year with a PERFECT 4.0 grade point average…nearly as rare for college athletes as pitching a perfect game in the state championship!
“Yeah, that’s kind of rare but I expect nothing less of myself. Actually, my roommate, Josh Shapiro is from Columbus (Bexley High School) and he finished the year with a 4.0, too. People probably think we were cheating off each other.”
They’re proud of their baseball in Wheelersburg, Ohio…proud of the three state titles (1996, 2012, and 2013), but more, proud of young men they turn out in the process of earning those titles.
Derek Moore, by the way, went on to collegiate success at Shawnee State University, compiling a 10-2 record as a freshman and All-American in 2014.
His high school teammate, Wade Martin, expects nothing less of himself going forward. He accustomed to expectations. He’s content with the process.
He’s learned you don’t have to be perfect. Just earn the trust and go from there.
And who knows what…next?