Finding his way to first base has never been a problem for Quad-Cities outfielder Nick Martini.
The River Bandits center fielder set the standard at the collegiate level for getting on base, and Martini continues to reach first with regularity in his first full season as a professional.
“He has a knack for getting on base,” Quad-Cities manager Luis Aguayo said. “We’ve seen it all spring, and you need players like that.”
No player in NCAA Division-I history has been more proficient in reaching base than Martini.
He reached safely in an NCAA-record 93 consecutive games during his career at Kansas State, where he earned Big 12 player of the year honors in 2010. A year later, the Cardinals made him their seventh-round selection in the draft.
The streak began during a game against Rice on May 1, 2009, and ended nearly two years later, on April 17, 2011, when Martini went 0-for-5 during a win at Nebraska.
In between, he broke the previous NCAA record of 86 when he reached on a walk in his final plate appearance during an April 3, 2011, game against Texas A&M.
“It was an incredible experience, something that no other player had accomplished at that level. It’s one of those things I’ll always remember about college,” Martini said. “It wasn’t something I set out to do, and I really wasn’t aware that it was ongoing until after my sophomore season.”
That year, he established a Kansas State record with a 26-game hitting streak and earned second-team all-American honors while batting .416 and leading the Big 12 in on-base percentage.
A native of Crystal Lake, Ill., where he was an all-state player at Prairie Ridge High School, Martini opted for an opportunity in the Big 12.
“I liked the atmosphere at Kansas State a lot, and playing in the Big 12, every weekend I was challenged with good competition,” Martini said. “It was the type of thing I needed, and it helped me develop my skills.”
Martini’s streak reached record proportions through a variety of ways.
In addition to putting the bat on the ball, he extended it with walks, intentional walks and by being struck by pitches.
“Some of it was pure luck, and I think that is probably how something like that happens,” Martini said. “In this game, the odds aren’t with you every day.”
Plate discipline was important as well.
“I try to make the most out of every at-bat, and it doesn’t matter how I get on base as long as I do get on base so I can help the team,” Martini said. “That’s where it starts. I try to maintain a pretty disciplined approach, and I try not to swing at many bad pitches. A lot of it is about trying to be smart with my at-bats and make the most of them.”
Aguayo said Martini seems to have a pretty good handle on the strike zone as he approaches each at-bat.
“For being so young in his career, he knows the zone well and he’s been doing a better job of swinging down through the ball,” Aguayo said. “As long as he continues to maintain that kind of approach at the plate, he’s only going to help himself.”
Martini is off to a .288 start for Quad-Cities, and he has reached base in 17 of the 18 games he has played in.
The only time he failed to reach base came last Friday, when he went 0-for-4 in a loss at Dayton, but Martini did drive a run home with a sacrifice fly.
His effort so far this season shows growth at the plate.
After choosing to sign with St. Louis last summer and forego his final season of eligibility at Kansas State, Martini struggled during his first season as a professional.
Assigned to short-season Batavia, he hit .167 in 174 at-bats in the New York-Penn League.
After thriving at the collegiate level, the experience taught Martini how to deal with the game’s highs and lows.
“It was something I probably needed to go through,” Martini said. “I learned how to accept failure in the game and how to deal with it. It wasn’t a lot of fun at the time, but it is something I can learn from.”
Martini spent time in the offseason working on his offensive abilities, something that now complements the skill he has shown while playing center field for the River Bandits.
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“My main focus right now is just being consistent, staying level headed and keeping the same approach from one day to the next,” Martini said. “If I do that, things will work out.”
The Martini file
Hometown: Crystal Lake, Ill.
Birthdate: June 27, 1990
College: Kansas State
Obtained: Seventh round, 2011 draft
By the numbers: Batted .167 for short-season Batavia in 2011. … Is fifth among River Bandits with a .288 batting average.
FYI: Martini currently shares the River Bandits team lead with 21 hits