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Sunday, March 17, 2013
Aaarghh! Martin happy to be a Pirate

By Wallace Matthews

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Russell Martin is lean, hairy and happy as a Pittsburgh Pirate.

The former Yankees catcher looks about 15 pounds lighter. He is sporting a trim goatee that would be taboo in Yankeeland. And while he admits to having been "a little surprised" that the Yankees let him go without even making an offer, he says he is happy to be an elder statesman in his new clubhouse.

Russell Martin
Former Yankee Russell Martin is happy as a Pirate.
"It’s fun," he said. "You have a lot of eyes on you at times, so I really have to watch what I’m doing. The guys, they’re really on board. They’re working hard, and they’re having fun while they doing it. I'm just trying to change the ways here as far as expectations."

Martin acknowledged that his own expectations were that the Yankees would have offered him something close to the three-year, $20 million deal they were dangling a year ago. "I thought I was going to be in pinstripes," he said. "I thought I was going to be penciled in there, but shows how much I know. There’s really no hard feelings or anything like that. I see it as a business move, and that’s it really."

Instead, he signed a two-year, $17 million deal with the Pirates without ever receiving a nibble from the team for which he had served as the starting catcher for the previous two seasons. Now, he is reunited with A.J. Burnett, who went from the knave of the Yankees staff to the ace of the Pirates and a lineup that includes Andrew McCutchen, one of the best young players in baseball.

"It’s a different atmosphere, a younger team, so because of that it’s a bit different," Martin said. "It’s a good group of guys, too. I’m enjoying myself. It’s still baseball. Just less media."

Indeed, when the Yankees beat crew invaded the Pirates clubhouse, the players stared in astonishment at a dozen reporters cluttering up their space. The interview was moved outside for the comfort and safety of all.

Martin, who hit 21 homers for the Yankees last year, was asked to weigh in on this year's team.

"I really don’t know," he said. "It seems like they always find a way. But it’s not the same bench. [Nick] Swisher’s out, I’m out, [Andruw] Jones is out, Chavy’s [Eric Chavez] gone, it’s going to be tough. Right now, with all the guys that are injured, it’s definitely an uphill battle, it seems like. It seems like it’s a little tougher division this year too. I think they’re up for it, but only time will tell."

Martin said he did not think, however, that catching will be a problem.

"Both those guys can catch," Martin said of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, the candidates to replace him as the starter. "Offensively, they don’t have the most power in the world, but that’s not the most important part of the game. Taking care of the pitchers is what’s going to get you to the playoffs, and I think they’re going to do a fine job."

Like Joe Girardi, Martin said he had seen improvement in Cervelli, particularly in throwing out baserunners, an area in which he has excelled this spring.

"The thing with Cervelli that I noticed is that he tried to be quicker than he needed to be," Martin said. "I think maybe he’s more under control. He tried to be so quick, and he didn’t need to be. He’s got a great arm, he’s got great actions behind home plate. He’s really good defensively, but he’d get in his own way by trying to be too quick behind home plate, playing like he had his hair on fire sometimes."

Overall, Martin seemed to enjoy, and maybe even miss, the give-and-take with the NY beat crew but said he was content with where fate had taken him.

"There’s no regrets, that’s all I can say, I have no regrets," he said. "I am where I am, I’m happy, and I’m just ready to take on the season and see what happens."