The Fascinating Career of Fordham Alumnus Nick Martinez


After a long journey, Nick Martinez is finally back in the big leagues. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Professional baseball is a fickle industry. Everyday, players are called up to the major leagues, sent down to the minors and cut from rosters all together. No one is more familiar with this reality than former Fordham baseball star Nick Martinez. Martinez was a 2011 18th round draft pick by the Texas Rangers who has spent much of his pitching career on the fringes of stardom. But now, after spending time playing overseas in Japan, Martinez is back in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres. This journey was not a linear one, nor was it easy.

For Martinez, the path to the pros started at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami, which he attended from 6th to 12th grade. “It was around my junior year when I started going to showcases and thinking about the next step in my career,” Martinez said. “I got recruited by a lot of Catholic and Jesuit Universities. It came down to Fordham and Georgetown, and ultimately I chose Fordham.”

Martinez began his career as a Ram playing primarily as a position player. Over three seasons with Fordham from 2009-11, Martinez hit .295 with a .381 OBP as mainly a second baseman. It wasn’t until he got drafted by Texas that Martinez began to solely focus on pitching. “I pitched a little bit my freshman year and a little bit more my junior year,” he said. “I told the coach at the time [Nick Restaino] that I could pitch a little bit and that I had taken some pitching lessons. The times that I did pitch my freshman year didn’t go great at all, actually.”

After spending his sophomore year entirely in the field, Martinez started to focus more on the pitching side heading into his junior year and first draft-eligible season. His goal was simple: to play professional baseball. “If pitching was the way I was going to get drafted, then I was open to it. The first thing I knew I wanted was to be a Major League Baseball player. I was going to take any chance that I had,” he said. Martinez saved three games that season and got the opportunity to pitch in front of MLB scouts. 

He impressed, so much so that the Rangers drafted him 564th overall in 2011. Beginning his pro journey in rookie ball, Martinez progressed through the Rangers system, culminating in an excellent 2013 season between A+ and AA, where he pitched to a combined 2.50 ERA in 25 starts. The following spring, Martinez earned the fifth spot in the Rangers rotation. He made his big league debut that April at age 23. 

Things got a little bumpier for Martinez at the big league level. He posted a 4.77 ERA over four seasons with Texas, spending large chunks of time moving between the majors and minors. Despite good stretches, Martinez never seemed to stick at the highest level. “Going up and down so much was tough. It knocks you down mentally and really beats you up,” Martinez said. “You’ve got to keep that grinder mentally and keep going. Ultimately it did knock me off my horse.”

Martinez became a free agent after the 2017 season. With limited interest from other Major League teams, he signed with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan. “At first I wasn’t going to go [to Japan]. My wife was pregnant at the time of the decision. I wasn’t even going to ask her, but I ended up doing it anyway,” Martinez said. “She was open to the idea. Then it became about whether it was a good decision for me professionally. There’ve been a lot of guys who go to Japan and return eventually, but there’s also a lot of guys who stay there and don’t make it back.”

Ultimately, it was the standard that Martinez set for himself that caused him to make the move. “In MLB, I was labeled as a depth guy. Someone you could have in AAA and is also reliable enough to make a start in the big leagues when you need him,” he said. “I didn’t like that label. I believed that I could be one of the five horses that takes a team to the World Series. I’ve always believed that about myself. Staying in the states would have meant accepting that label.” 

Three years after his life changing move to Japan, Martinez finally became the pitcher he always knew he could be. In 2021, he posted a 1.63 ERA in 23 appearances for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. With the MLB players not taking part in the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Martinez’ stellar form earned him a spot on Team USA in the world’s biggest stage. He pitched eleven innings for Team USA at the games, including a start in the gold medal game against Japan, holding them to just one run in six innings as he took home a silver medal. 

“It was unbelievable,” Martinez said of his experience at the Olympics. “It’s a huge honor to represent your country and be around all those other athletes. You could really feel the intensity that everyone has. The energy was contagious. Looking back on it now, I feel luckier to have been selected for Team USA than I was to make my Major League debut.”

2021 is the year that it all seemed to click for Martinez. But it wasn’t pure mechanics that finally got him to the level he always strived for. It was also mental. “Before you have kids, being a baseball player is what defines you. You think just because you’re a great baseball player you’re a great person, or if you’re not playing so well then you’re not that great. Being a baseball player isn’t really who we are, it’s what we do,” he said. “Having a family of my own and having a daughter to come home to no matter how I played allowed me to look at baseball differently. How I am as a father and a husband is how I’m defined as a person.”

Martinez was rewarded for his hard work last month, when the San Diego Padres signed him to a four year, $25.5 million contract. The deal was initially rumored to be complete in December, but the MLB lockout kept the deal from becoming official until recently. After years of hard work, Martinez is finally back where he always wanted to be: the Major Leagues. “It’s great to be back in the big leagues,” Martinez said. “Just having my entire family being able to spend time with me and see me throughout the country is so exciting.”

After three solid starts in spring training, Martinez is poised to make a big impact with the Padres this season. San Diego opens their 2022 campaign on Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.