Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: Draft turns Kansas State's Nick Martini into former Cubs fan

You don't get any more Cubs crazy than Scott Martini, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, Ill., and calls Mark Grace his favorite Cub.

Martini's grandfather, Edward Soch, asked his friends and family to pray for the Cubs to win the World Series in 1984 as he slipped in health. The Cubs, of course, didn't oblige and Soch died soon after their loss to the San Diego Padres in the National League Championship Series.

Like most Cubs fans, Martini cusses the name "Steve Bartman" and would be happy to never hear another "billy goat curse" story. It's been 103 years since the Cubs won a World Series, yet fans like Martini remain loyal.

But earlier this week, Martini told his wife that he was going to take all of his Cubs clothing — shirts, hats, etc. —and burn them. No, not because of Chicago's recent eight-game losing streak that sent them free-falling in the NL Central. It's because his son, Nick, a Kansas State outfielder and the 2010 Big 12 Player of the Year, was drafted by the previously-despised St. Louis Cardinals.

Providing more evidence that blood is indeed thicker than water, Scott Martini has switched his allegiances. And he doesn't care if everyone in Crystal Lake — a die-hard Cubs town — knows. In fact, he went looking for a Cardinals hat there after Nick was chosen in the seventh round of the draft Tuesday and could find only one. It didn't fit.

"Don't worry, I'll find Cardinals gear,'' he said.

Nick, a 5-foot-11, 192-pound left-handed hitter with speed, batted .326 in 2011 with 24 stolen bases. He says adjusting to the new style of bat used in college baseball this season was an adjustment that kept him from replicating the offensive numbers he piled up in 2010 when he batted a Big 12-best .416, drove in 59 runs and stole 39 bases.

Being a life-long Cardinals fan, I'm now a big Martini fan. He said Thursday that he has reached a contract agreement with St. Louis and will sign today before reporting to Batavia (N.Y.) for a short-season Class-A baseball in the New York-Penn League.

Like his father, great-grandfather, grandmother, brother — name a family member, they're likely a Cubs fan — Nick is loyal to the Cubbies.

"It's all been pretty crazy,'' he said. "I've been a Cubs fan ever since I can remember and always rooted for them. I tried to go to as many games at Wrigley Field as I could when I was younger. I've never actually liked the Cardinals.''

Funny what a draft can do to allegiances.

"Most of my dislike for the Cardinals was because they were always winning,'' Nick Martini said. "And the Cubs weren't.''

Martini has one of the best records in college baseball history, having reached base in 93 consecutive games spanning the 2010 and 2011 seasons. According to scouting reports, he hits the ball to all fields and won't chase bad pitches.

Because of the different makeup of bats in college baseball this season, Martini tried to flatten out his swing and the results were mixed. His batting average did drop by nearly 100 points.

Still, he expected to be chosen within the first 10 rounds and was elated when the Cardinals, of all teams, called his name.

"I wish there were words to explain how excited Nick is about this,'' Scott Martini said. "Not only to get a chance to play professional baseball, but to be a Cardinal. When he was drafted, I saw the same excitement as I did in that 7-year old kid I started teaching the game to years ago.''

Martini was in a car headed to New York when I reached him on the telephone Thursday afternoon. Batavia's season begins next Friday and Martini is sure to be one of the team's starting outfielders, either in left or right field.

"Beyond hitting, I would say my strengths are my ability to run and play good defense,'' Martini said. "I'm an all-around player, I think.''

He said he became a professional prospect at Kansas State, where he was a freshman All-American with a .336 average, 17 doubles and 50 RBI.

"I talked to a couple of (scouts) with the Cardinals and they ended up getting this done,'' Nick Martini said. He had no idea, though, St. Louis was that interested.

Obviously, Martini was hoping to be drafted by the Cubs. That would have been magic.

Still, the minute he heard he'd been chosen by the Cardinals, it was as if the Cubs' blood drained from his body.

Now the Martini clan of Crystal Lake has switched teams.

"I'm not going to lie to you,'' Scott Martini said, "I'm a Cardinals fan. And I never thought I would utter those words.''