Watching Kyle Martin play baseball, it’s easy to spot his intensity on the field and the determined way he goes about his business at the plate.
The South Carolina senior first baseman stoically gets the job done as the team’s best overall hitter and the infield’s top defender. But there’s a side to him that not everybody sees, says Martin’s roommate, junior shortstop Marcus Mooney.
“He’s a big goofball. He’s got a good sense of humor,” Mooney said.
The two shared an acting class where they did a scene from “Of Mice and Men.”
“It was hilarious. He was Lennie, I was George. He’s a good actor,” Mooney said.
Even though John Steinbeck’s story isn’t exactly a comedy, the pair won plaudits for their portrayals.
“We got an A-plus. The teacher gave us a standing ovation,” Mooney said.
Grading Martin’s performance for the Gamecocks this season would yield him an A-plus as well. One of 60 players in the nation to be named to USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list, he’s hitting .344 with a .447 on-base percentage along with a team-high .603 slugging percentage, 11 doubles, nine homers, 41 RBIs and 30 walks, numbers that also put him among the SEC leaders.
In a loss at Florida, he became the first Gamecock since 2004 to hit for the cycle, the seventh time that has occurred in school history. But Martin still calls his two-run walk-off homer in the 10th inning of a 6-4 win over Kentucky the highlight of his season.
USC coach Chad Holbrook marvels over Martin’s improved plate approach in seeking better pitches to hit, his increased confidence level over four seasons and his work in the weight room to get stronger.
Holbrook couldn’t be more thrilled Martin decided to return for his senior season after he was selected in the 20th round of last summer’s MLB draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
“It was extremely important to our team, even though we’re not where we need to be,” Holbrook said. “Who knows where we would be without him? For him to come back, to me what it says more than anything is the kid loves playing here. He enjoys playing at Carolina Stadium in front of these fans, and he loves putting on this uniform.”
Martin watched six classmates sign pro deals last season, but he has no regrets about his decision to play one more season, even though the Gamecocks (26-19) have not played as consistently as in past seasons.
“I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I’m glad I got the chance to put the uniform on one more time. This year was all about having fun and just enjoying my last year,” Martin said. “It’s been incredible, especially with this group of guys, being so close to them. Being able to bond with them has been great on and off the field.”
Martin has done his best to step forward as a leader to his teammates, especially the freshmen. Mooney likes to study how Martin goes about his prep work for games. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Greenville native platooned his first two seasons before becoming the everyday first baseman. In 146 career starts, he has hit .329 with 17 homers and 101 RBIs.
“He’s one guy, when he takes BP, I actually watch him and learn something from him,” Mooney said. “He goes in the cage, and I watch everything he does. Sometimes, I go to him and ask what I’m doing wrong. He can help me out because he does so many drills in the cage, and they all seem to be working for him.”
The shortstop also loves Martin’s footwork around the first-base bag and his ability to pick throws out of the dirt, which has saved countless errors for all the infielders.
Holbrook points out that Martin is a standout student, too. As a mechanical engineering major who plans to graduate in December, Martin is following in the footsteps of his engineer father.
“He’s the true definition of a student-athlete and this year he has played his tail off,” Holbrook said. “I’m proud of Kyle and pleased to be his coach.”
As he awaits the MLB draft again this summer, Martin hopes the Gamecocks can play well enough down the stretch to make it to the NCAA Tournament. He’s not ready to take off the uniform for the final time at the end of SEC play.
“I’m not giving up yet,” Martin said. “We still have three weekends left and two more midweek games. Anything can happen. This is a crazy game.”
WHERE MARTIN RANKS
Senior first baseman Kyle Martin leads USC in a number of offensive categories:
Home runs: 9
Slugging percentage: .606