Released by Washington Nationals, Junior Martina finds home with Windy City ThunderBolts. ‘The hunger is still there.’

13 July 2023

In his first season with the Windy City ThunderBolts, infielder Junior Martina is a long way from his home in South Holland.

No, not the one in the south suburbs about 10 miles from the T-Bolts’ home at Ozinga Field in Crestwood. Martina lives in Voorschoten, South Holland, in the Netherlands.

“Baseball has taken me a lot of places around the world,” Martina said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Martina got in on the fun Tuesday as the T-Bolts hosted a new event — the Frontier League skills competition, held a day before the league’s All-Star Game.

Martina participated in the precision hitting contest. Batters had to hit four targets around the field before capping it off by hitting a pitch into center field for a teammate to catch, stopping the clock in the timed competition.

Martina completed the challenge in 2 minutes, 10 seconds but finished last among the four competitors. Craig Massey of the Florence Y’alls won the event with times of 1:20 in the first round and 53 seconds in the finals.

For the skills competition, which featured five events, All-Star players were placed on four teams, with each representing a local nonprofit. The team representing the Trinity Christian College athletic department was victorious over teams supporting the Bremen High School band, the Do It Stevie’s Way Foundation and the Special Recreation Athletic Support Association.

Martina and T-Bolts teammate Bren Spillane were on the Do It Stevie’s Way team, and Martina is thrilled to be an All-Star in his first season in Crestwood.

Despite being released by the Washington Nationals last summer following four seasons in their organization, Martina is not giving up on his dream.

“The grind is still there, the hunger is still there,” Martina said. “I’m facing really good players. I don’t feel like I’m in a different league or anything. Everyone is competing. We’re grown men going at it.”

Martina was born in Curacao — a Netherlands territory in the Caribbean — and spent time growing up there and in the Netherlands.

He has played for the Netherlands national team, winning a gold medal in the 2021 European Championships.

“Playing for the Dutch team has been great,” Martina said. “It’s helped me with exposure, and it’s been great to get to represent the country. We’ve gone a lot of places.

“In September, I’ll be in the Czech Republic for the Euro Cup. I’m excited to finish the season strong here and then head off with the Dutch guys.”

Small ball: Chase Dawson of the Schaumburg Boomers — a native of Chesterton, Indiana, and a Valparaiso University graduate — won the night’s first event, the bunting derby.

“Bunting is a big part of my game,” Dawson said. “I had to show it off a little bit. We’ve got to bring that back to the game of baseball.”

Rusber Estrada of the New Jersey Jackals won the catcher throwing competition while Chris Kwitzer of the New York Boulders won the outfielder throwing contest.

Long balls: Ozinga Field has become a notoriously difficult place to hit a home run, but the Gateway Grizzlies’ Pete Zimmerman managed to take 11 balls over the wall in the first round of the Home Run Derby before falling 8-7 to the Jackals’ Josh Rehwaldt in a swing-off in the finals.

Spillane, the T-Bolts’ hometown hero, hit five homers in the first round to finish third.

“It was weird because when I was up there hitting, you can’t really see if it goes over,” Spillane said. “On those first six or so swings, I thought I was hitting them over. I was like, ‘That’s how hard I need to hit it.’ Then I took my first timeout and they said I’d only hit one. I was like ‘What?’

“It was a blast, though.”

Steve Millar is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.


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