• Lalo Mata

M&M to Kansas

Written By: Lalo Mata                                                                                                       

Published: Septmeber 5, 2020

Max Martinez

M&M to Kansas

Max Martinez became one of the top catchers in the Sacramento area when it comes to the 2020 graduating class and plans to make a bigger statement at the University of Kansas.

I had the opportunity to catch-up with the talented multi-position player on his way to Kansas and have had the unique role of not only playing with Max, but also had the opportunity to watch him train and prepare. Max has always had a quiet approach to almost everything he does, except for when the game was over - that's when he was all smiles.

For those who aren't familiar with the switch-hitting catcher, he showcases one of the most versatile set of tools the area has seen as both a defensive player and offensive threat. The recent Christian Brothers High School grad can literally hit the ball to any part of the field, including over the fence. Like many Springtime athletes we've covered at SacTown's Finest, his senior season was put on COVID pause.

Martinez spent his years at Christian Brothers in the same graduating class as Jordan Gonzales who will also have the pleasure of playing at the division one level at UNR as a pitcher.

Jordan and Max go as far back as travel baseball since they were young teenagers on teams with the Jerry Manuel Foundation (JMF) with players like LA Angels INF, Kyren Paris and Washington Huskies slugger Mike Brown, Natomas Little League, and even Klutch Baseball who was one of the top teams in Sacramento.

Klutch Baseball was a team full of high-caliber names such as Arizona's Chase Davis, UNR's Jordan Gonzales and Vinnie Bachelier, Franklin High grads Jake Pina and Brandon Rundgren, Alpha Charter grad Ishamel Burton, and Elk Grove grads Kenny Williams and myself (Lalo Mata). All coached by my father (Lalo Mata Sr.), John Gonzales, Vin Sr., and Tom Martinez.

Many great rivalries were established early on with Jordan and Max against players such as Daniel and Anthony Susac of Jesuit in the Holy Rivalry. Other players from a great Capitals team were Arizona's TJ Nichols, Washington's Carson Blatnick, Oregon State's Garret Forrester, UCSB's Luke Williams, and Oakland Athletics' Tyler Soderstrom.

Max was always a kid of many talents with a swing for every direction and a glove for every position but found his talents in catching early on before high school.

What are some of the best teams you have been on?

"There are two teams that will always be close to my heart.  The first is KLUTCH Baseball. We expected to win every game and my teammates became family. It was then Klutch head coach, Lalo Mata Sr., who introduced me to serious innings behind the dish. He showed me how to use athleticism while catching. Whenever I see my old Klutch teammates, its nothing but good times."

"The other team was the aforementioned JMF. This squad was loaded with talent and boasted a batting order that produced at least 9 D1 commits. We traveled to New York as part of a sponsorship provided by BRITA. We played against some really good competition, with a couple of games on TV, and won the Summer Youth Baseball Championship (see photo which includes D1 commits Kyren Paris, CAL but signed in the second round by Los Angeles Angels/ Jon Jon Berring Santa Clara Univ/ Chase Davis, Univ of Arizona/ Mike Brown, Univ of Washington, Ronnie Belton, Grand Canyon Univ/ Vinnie Bachelier, Univ of Nevada/ Landon Wallace, Univ of Nevada/ Carson Kohls, Penn State Univ.) As luck would have it, I bumped into Carson Kohls at the Denver CO Airport on my way to KU. He was on his way to Penn State and we shared a brief moment and a few memories of playing together for JMF and SSC."

Who are some of the best players you have played with or against?

"The Sacramento Region is loaded with some really good talent. While being recruited you learn quickly that college and pro scouts recognize the baseball talent in the Sacramento Region. Batters face a lot of high velo pitching. Pitchers see talented hitters. Fielders are always on their toes because of the speed of the game. In short, NorCal baseball produces some great competition, which makes everyone better."

As for sticking my neck out on specific players:

Smartest Player -- Kyren Paris.  KP was way ahead of us in his approach and was mature beyond his years. He was selected in the second round of the 2019 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Angels.

Most Powerful Hitter -- Chase Davis.  The baseball just flies off his bat like nobody I have ever played with or against.

Pitchers -- Keep an eye out for Rio Britton, Oregon (left hand), and my man Jordan Gonzales, Nevada (right hand).

Who are some of the best coaches you have had?

"I have been seriously been blessed to play for some great coaches. I can go on and on with names, but know that I have honestly learned something from each one of them.  That aside, as you grow your game, your training coaches are the ones that can help you develop and address the areas you may need individual help with. In that respect, I feel my hitting, throwing, and catching coaches were key to growing my game."

"I remember my father taking me to BMP (Baseball Mentoring Program) and introducing me to Jalal Leach when I was seven years old. To this day Jalal continues to check in on me.  As I approached high school it was apparent that coaches wanted me to pitch so my father then introduced me to Caleb Balbuena. He taught me how to use my whole body, rather than depending only on my arm. Caleb also helps me in other parts of my game, but he recognized that I likely had a future in catching and introduced me to Matt Ceriani.  Matt doesn't just provide instruction, he puts on the gear and gets dirty."

Who had the biggest impact on your career?

"Growing up in a baseball household, my father, grandfather, family friends were always following the Los Angeles Dodgers. We would use the time between innings to work on hitting something. My father would sometimes throw rolled-up socks in a game of 21 (the white were one point, multi-color were two, and dark ones were three points). It would always begin as fun and then turn into something competitive."

"I think my father's worst fears were that I would become a video gamer.  If he saw me sitting down or about to put on the play station, he would say "hey - its a good time to hit some baseballs."  When it was Winter, he put up a couple of nets in the family room and turn the music on and I'd hit baseballs.  He coached me for most of my younger years and still loves to throw me batting practice. I am amazed he can still lift his arm over his shoulder."

During my days of rehab at SSC I would constantly see the old man Tom Martinez finding time during lunch or after work to throw Max a round of BP in the cages. Since we were young it was easy to see that Tom wanted to always be there to help Max be the best player he could be.

What is a gameday routine like?

"It all begins with a good meal, good tunes and then some "FOM."  FOM is taught by J.J. Sherill and is short for Frame of Mind. It's all about getting to the mindset that "I am great." The Jerry Manual Foundation (JMF) coach taught me and my teammates this mental exercise while playing for JMF in New York  (more on that later)."

Why did you choose Kansas over other schools?

"Easy Answer -- Head Coach Ritch Price. Additionally, I have always enjoyed playing baseball outside of California. KU plays in the Big 12 and our non-conference schedule takes us to different parts of the country, as well as to the occasional international spot."

What are you looking forward to most in Kansas?

"I am most interested in meeting my new teammates, creating some new friendships, and making even more fun memories over the next few years."

What advice would you give to younger players wanting to play in college?

"My best advice for anyone wanting to play baseball is to find a team that allows you to play multiple positions. My father was diligent about how much I used my arm to throw, whether it was catching or pitching. I think his worse fear was that I would get stuck as a PO (pitcher only)." 

"It is also important to find a batting cage or facility where you can grow.  There are many really good spots in the Sacramento Region, but I really enjoyed the smaller confines of BMP, which is now Davis Sports Academy. I lived a few minutes away and it became another home to me. Lastly, find a trainer to help you with your development. You might have athleticism or a strong throwing arm, but a trainer, like the ones I mentioned earlier, they should want you to develop, as well as have fun. Its a process!"

As Max becomes hopeful for a spring season in 2021 we can also admire the journey he has been on since his younger days of baseball all the way up to the hybrid- hitting, swiss army defender he has become. Plug this kid in a lineup and he'll produce runs. Put him anywhere on the field and he'll give a jaw-dropping play. Max Martinez has become a "dude" out of the 916 and will represent a talented city at a big name school with unmatched skills, a hard-working mentality, and insane levels of talent. M&M will do damage in Kansas.

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© 2020 by Lalo Mata