Major league catcher Russell Martin isn't quite ready to test his healed right knee and hip against mixed martial arts competition.
However, the native of Chelsea, Que., is quick to sing the praises of the sport's training methods, declaring himself in the best shape of his professional baseball career.
Much of the credit goes to Jonathan Chaimberg, the former trainer for reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
"I feel like I've trained myself the right way this year. … It's just really high intensity, power endurance-type training," said Martin of MMA training, which he began in mid-October in Chaimberg's Montreal gym.
Martin, who joined the New York Yankees in December as a free agent on a one-year contract worth $4 million US, pointed to being in poor shape the past two seasons as one of the reasons for his declining performance at the plate.
In 2010, Martin posted a batting average of .248 in 97 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers, down from .250 the previous season and .280 in 2008 when he drove in 69 runs. He hit a career-best 19 home runs in 2007 but swatted 13, seven and five the next three years.
In a wide-ranging interview with CBCSports.ca, Martin also discussed his reasons for signing with the Yankees, working with their much-maligned starting pitchers and his current health status. Martin and New York's other catchers and pitchers must report to spring training in Tampa Bay by Feb. 15.
CBCSports.ca: What were a couple of factors that led to you signing with the New York Yankees after rejecting an offer from the Dodgers that guaranteed $200,000 US more?
Martin: The main reason is, where do I have the best chance to win a World Series? That's what made me lean towards the New York Yankees, and I wanted to get closer to home [in Montreal]. Looking back, and thinking about the injury that I had, it was almost a blessing in disguise.
Nobody wants to get injured but because of my injury I get to be closer to home, play for a team that's the winningest organization of all time. Now I just have to make the best of the opportunity I have.
CBCSports.ca: What has New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the coaching staff said about how they'll balance your playing time? Will you only catch or catch and spend time at third base?
Martin: All they said is they want me to be their No. 1 catcher. The way I see it is, I have to go out and earn my spot. Nothing's ever given to you.
The Yankees are the type of organization that wants to win, so they're going to put out the team that they feel is going to give them the best opportunity to win, so I have to prove that I'm that guy that's going to help them win the most this year. It's that simple.Catcher Russell Martin played some third base over the previous five seasons with the Dodgers. He says the New York Yankees want him to be their No. 1 backstop in 2011. (Christine Cotter/Associated Press)
CBCSports.ca: Your production the past two years (.250 batting average, 12 home runs, 79 RBIs) isn't what it was in 2007 and 2008 when you hit between .280 and .290 and combined for 32 home runs and 156 RBIs. Besides injuries, how do you explain the decline?
Martin: For me, it's easy. You have the short-term memory when you think about things you're not happy with and make adjustments. You try and learn and understand what were the reasons why you didn't have much success and you make those adjustments.
Some of it was off-season training. I also had some distractions and wasn't able to perform at the level I wanted to and you get frustrated, The fact of the matter was that my '07 and '08 [seasons] were probably the years I was in the best shape of my life. This year I feel revived and in great shape.
CBCSports.ca: Your 2010 season was cut short by a fractured right hip and you had surgery in December to repair a torn meniscus in your right knee. Are you able to do most, if not all, baseball activities?
Martin: There's a lot of baseball activities I haven't done because of the knee and the hip. The hip's fine now and now it's just the [right] knee that has a couple of weeks to go [as of Jan. 15]. With regards to range of motion, in the short period of time since I've been rehabbing, I've made long strides. As far as swinging the bat, as soon as I go to Tampa [for spring training]. It looks promising.
I'm in better shape than '07 and '08. The only thing is I haven't been able to run. I don't think they need me to steal 30 [bases] but I'd like to be in that shape. The first thing is to get the health back and then I'll see where I'm at.
CBCSports.ca: Have you set any other goals for the 2011 season?
Martin: I'm just going to play as hard as I can. I don't like throwing numbers out there because I don't like thinking about it. Numbers aren't really that important. The important thing is you either get a W [for a win] at the end of the day, or a loss.
CBCSports.ca: There's a good chance you'll bat in the eighth or ninth spot in the Yankees' batting order. Have you ever batted eighth or ninth?
Martin: The last couple of years that's where I was at, and that was very frustrating. But with the [talent-laden] Yankees it's different. If you hit eighth in the National League you have the pitcher behind you so they pitch you differently. It's even tougher.
CBCSports.ca: What are your thoughts on going from a pitcher's park at Dodger Stadium to the hitter-friendly environment at new Yankee Stadium?
Martin: A lot of fly balls that I've hit to right-centre at Dodger Stadium would be home runs at Yankee Stadium.
CBCSports.ca: Are you looking forward to being a mentor for a couple of the Yankees' young catchers, Francisco Cervelli and Jesus Montero?
Martin: For my whole life I've learned by watching guys that were older than I was and seeing what they did. When I got to the Dodgers [in 2006] I picked their brains. Paul LoDuca was there, David Ross, [former Toronto Blue Jay] Pat Borders.
I asked a lot of questions, and if those guys [Cervelli, Montero] have questions I'll be there to answer them.
CBCSports.ca: The Yankees' starting pitching staff was criticized in the latter part of last season for underperforming, especially A.J. Burnett and youngster Phil Hughes. What will you be expecting of these guys at the start of spring training?
Martin: You want them out there performing to the best of their ability and you want their mindset to be right. That's the key. You can't control everything but they can control their mindset and how they prepare for a game.
For me, the most important thing is going into the game feeling prepared. When you're prepared you feel confident. And when you're confident normally good things happen.
CBCSports.ca: How are you going to handle the big city?
Martin: I'm probably going to [live] outside the city. New York is like no other place. Some people like it, some people don't. I've had instances where New York was a bit much for me, but lately I've been getting acclimated. I'm starting to feel that energy in that city. Hopefully I can take some of that energy and bring it to the field.