JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
TIJUANA, Mexico — The swing of one bat moved Burnet High School alumnus Dustin Martin from an elite baseball player to a legend for the Tijuana Toros.
In the bottom of the ninth inning in the first game of the Mexican league World Series on Sept. 7, the Toros were tied 0-0 with Puebla when Martin stepped up to the plate to begin the inning.
Martin hit a walk-off homer, only the second of his career, in Game 1 of the series for the Toros. It was his fifth home run in the playoffs.
And though the Toros lost the series in six games, Martin, who hit home runs in Games 2 and 3, counts it as the best experience of his career.
“We played a good team and ended up losing,” he said. “It was fun. I was never loved by a fanbase more. Latin American fans are passionate.”
Martin, who is nicknamed “Captain America,” is now mobbed by the Toros fans everywhere he goes. They seek hundreds of autographs and countless photos with the Texan. His parents, Gary and Mina Martin, and his sisters were surprised by his newfound popularity.
His dad often jokes that the family’s old business when they lived in Corpus Christi — baseball batting cages — is what paid for his son’s expenses at Sam Houston State, where he played baseball.
Obviously, with Dustin’s success, the batting cages paid off in more than one way.
Martin has played in the outfield for most of his career. For the Toros, he plays right field. But he also plays first base because he is a lefty.
But it’s his bat that has franchises talking thanks to a career average of .290. In the Mexican league, he has a batting average of .340.
“That’s why I’m still playing,” he said. “I hit in the middle of the lineup. Basically, the bottom line is I’ve been doing this for 10 seasons.”
He attributes his success to visualization and positive thinking.
The night before he goes to bed, he watches videos of himself hitting home runs. As he’s falling asleep, he visualizes everything at the plate – from his approach to his footwork to his swing to making contact.
“If you believe it, picture it, visualize it, it happens more often,” Martin said. “I think I’m going to succeed. That’s how we’re wired. Your mind is like a computer. On Netflix, I saw the ‘Law of Attraction.’ Whatever you’re trying to attract, you’re going to attract.”
And though baseball is known as a game of failure, which means that seven out of 10 at-bats result in an out, Martin wants to maximize the three times he reaches base. And he believes visualizing the positives gives him the results he wants.
During 2014-15, he played in a winter league on Yaquis de Obregon near the Yaqui Indian tribe in Mexico. The regular season is about 65 games, then there’s the playoffs. Martin’s team finished one series shy of qualifying for the Caribbean World Series that pits the top teams in Latin America against each other.
In July 2015, he played for the Tigres de Quintana Roo that is based in Cancun thanks to a friend who put in a good word for Martin with the front office. He played in 18 games then was traded to the Toros.
Martin, wife Chelsea, and 3-month-old son Jett made their home in San Diego since it was no more than 30 minutes from Tijuana. The team plays six days a week with one day off.
Martin was simply matter-of-fact about the move.
“If you don’t have instant success, they’ll release you,” he said. “Baseball is a business, it’s not anything else. All teams do is try to win.”
The Martins moved to Burnet from Corpus Christi during Christmas 2000 in time for Dustin to enroll for the spring semester at Burnet High School. He played football his junior year for Corpus Christi Calallen but was stuck way down the depth chart because of his height of 5 feet 2 inches. By the time football season rolled around in 2001 at Burnet, he had grown a foot.
He and another former star, Jordan Shipley, never left the field as they each played receiver and cornerback.
“(Coach Bob Shipley) gave me some confidence,” Martin said. “It was a very good experience. I was finally as big as everyone else. We made the playoffs in baseball my junior year.”
Martin doesn’t believe in specializing in one sport in high school, adding he played football, basketball, and golf in addition to baseball.
And since he played with former standouts Stephen McGee and Shipley, Martin said he received more scholarship offers to play college football.
“I knew the longevity of my (professional) career was to play baseball,” he said.
The 2002 graduate spent four years at Sam Houston State, where he won the team’s batting title with a batting average of .390. He chose Sam Houston State because “it was the only Division I school to offer me.” Former Burnet coach Rick Prewitt contacted Sam Houston on Martin’s behalf.
“I guess I expected it of myself,” he said.
Martin entered the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft, where he was picked by the New York Mets in the 26th round. He was traded to the Minnesota Twins for Luis Castillo on July 30, 2007.
“I loved the Mets,” Martin said. “I was the No. 7 prospect in the organization. That was a big deal. With the Twins, I was No. 33.”
So what’s the secret to playing professional baseball for a decade? His offseason work ethic, Martin said. It’s why his worst injury was a rolled ankle that kept him out for a week.
He lets his body rest for a few weeks then begins weight workouts in December and adds hitting and throwing drills a month before spring practice. And he’s always working on cardio, whether it’s playing racquetball, basketball, or another activity. And even his fun activity — golf — helps him keep his competitive edge.
“I want to be bigger, stronger, faster,” he said.
He is taking the rest of the year off and has plans to offer a baseball camp in November in Burnet.
“I like working with young people,” he said. “I have a lot of knowledge to share. I played with a lot of great players.”