Kansas State University

Martini leads way for Wildcats

MANHATTAN — On a rainy day at Kansas State, Nick Martini spends most of his time at the Wildcats' indoor practice facility.

There are three hitting areas, and he makes an appearance at each. He spends some time working on his swing, smashing slowly-tossed baseballs into nearby nets, but he dedicates most of the afternoon to talking.

He discusses technique with coaches, jokes with teammates and makes sure everyone who needs help receives it.

After hitting .416 and earning the distinction of Big 12 Player of the Year as a sophomore, and setting what is believed to be a NCAA record earlier this season by reaching base in 93 straight games, this is how Martini chooses to be.

"I've been working on trying to become more of a leader in any way I can," Martini says. "All my teammates, they know they can come to me any time they want and I'll help them out. I'm pretty easy to talk to."

That wasn't always the case, though.

Martini is known for many things — his swing, his eyes and his status as K-State's best overall hitter — but talking is not one of them.

"He's pretty much to himself," said coach Brad Hill, "but he's opened up this year."

Martini, a junior left fielder, came into the season hoping to advance in that area, because, well, he had to improve at something. After performing so beautifully at the plate a year ago, his main thoughts were "to stay within myself" and "be patient" and not worry about surpassing the stellar numbers of his past.

"That stuff can mess with you," he says. "You just have to come out every day and play the way you know how."

That meant challenging himself in new ways, like improving on his defense and becoming a more vocal presence in the dugout.

The results, while not as eye-popping as last year, have been good. His batting average is .337 — ninth-best in the Big 12 — and he leads the Wildcats with 30 walks.

"He's probably the best defensive left fielder in our league, for sure, if not the country," Hill added. "He's a great defensive left fielder. He's worked on some of those things there. That's something I challenged him with, being a little bit better in the outfield, quicker release things like that. He's got other parts of his game."

The best part remains his hitting, though. He wouldn't have been able to build that incredible on-base streak, or earned national attention for doing so, if that weren't the case.

It was a two-year effort that began during the final game of his freshman season and he takes great pride in.

"I'm glad I was able to do something like that for my team," Martini said. "Getting on base every game is a pretty important and a good achievement. It's something cool that happened to me. It's something that will always be there and something that I will have the rest of my life."

It also reinforced his status as a pro prospect.

All while adjusting to the new, less powerful, bats being used in college baseball and receiving superstar treatment from opposing pitchers.

"It's definitely noticeable," says Martini of the way opposing pitchers treat him. "I've adjusted the best I can and am just trying to stay in myself. I get more off-speed pitches. The first two guys will get fastballs in, fastballs away, and then I get a 3-2 curveball.

"They're trying to make me hit their pitch and doing anything they can to get me out. That's just something you've got to live with and deal with."

Not an easy task.

"It's kind of tough everywhere you go to be the Big 12 Player of the Year," Hill said. "Obviously you've got six, seven scouts in your face all the time. It's a tough thing to deal with for any kid."

This summer, Martini will face another difficult situation — choosing whether to stay at K-State for his senior season or turn pro. He will be eligible for the MLB Draft, and he is listed as a top-20 outfielder by one online rankings site.

Hill suggests he needs to learn to pull the ball with more consistency and hit for power to make it big at the next level, but all college players face that challenge when transitioning to the professional game.

"I don't really think about it too much, but I know that it could potentially be there," Martini said. "When the time comes, I'll make a decision."

For now, he is focusing on the remainder of his junior season. Heading into today's 6:30 p.m. game against Wichita State, the Wildcats still have an outside chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season.

"If we can make it to a regional," he says, "I like our chances at doing something special."

During his three seasons at K-State, the Wildcats have done plenty of extraordinary things and that has boosted recruiting and the program's status within in the Big 12.

Martini faces expectations and pressures to help continue that trend. But if this season has taught him anything, it's how to handle those.

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