Extended: Martin returns to baseball diamond

Sportscaster Ernie Harwell once wrote, “Baseball? It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat.  Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes.  It’s a sport, business and sometimes even religion.”

No one understands this dynamic more than Mr. Dave Martin, a health teacher at East and East’s former varsity baseball head coach from 1972  to  2005.

“I can never get enough baseball. When I’m out there, I’m in a world that’s hard to explain. As a former player, I still get butterflies. It’s truly a godsend and it’s what I love to do,” said Martin.

Baseball is an inescapable passion for Martin, who retired from coaching after the spring 2005 season. It comes as no surprise that he will be returning- this time as an assistant coach- to continue his winning legacy at East.

Aside from East, Martin also received offers this past fall for assistant coaching positions at Paul VI, Eastern and Shawnee.

However, Martin said that after “some really wonderful discussions with [current head coach] Mr. [Erik] Radbill, and after weighing the positives and negatives of all the schools, I decided to come back to East.”

Martin’s return proved to be especially timely after East’s previous assistant coach, Mr. Dan McMaster, left the program to take a teaching and coaching job at Cherry Hill West.

“Having played for him in the 80’s and taking over for him and needing an assistant coach, it was a no-brainer [to hire Martin]. I am probably the only coach in the state of New Jersey with an assistant coach who has 500 high school wins,” said Radbill.

After a brief retirement during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Martin returned to baseball last spring as a volunteer for Eastern High School’s freshmen team.

 East graduate Steven Young (’92), who was the head coach of the Eastern freshmen team in 2008, and “one of the best players in the history of East,” according to Martin, said Martin had a significant impact on his young players.

 “He was a steady influence on the kids. He never got too high or too low. The kids recognized how much he could help. They wanted to be around him and really couldn’t get enough of him,” said Young.

 While retirement provided Martin with opportunities such as extended golf outings and minor league baseball excursions, he simply got “a bit bored with it.”

 Still, it wasn’t until last spring that Martin realized how much he had missed coaching.

 “What happened was, as I was helping [Young] out; the passion to coach came back. So I got really excited about the possibility of returning to coaching,” said Martin.

 Though returning as an assistant varsity baseball coach for the first time, Martin isn’t disconcerted by his new title. As the assistant girl’s varsity soccer coach since 1972, Martin has had plenty of experience as the second man in charge.

 “I know the role of an assistant coach. Whatever Mr. Radbill needs me to do; I can certainly fill in for him in any phase of the game. And I’m looking forward to it,” said Martin.

 Mr. Alex Falat, girl’s varsity soccer coach, said Martin is not only a great coach but also a “great mentor.”

“For the most part, his contribution is more towards helping me out. He’s been a great mentor to me, helping me to learn to deal with different coaching issues that come up,” said Falat. 

Radbill also acknowledges the advantage of having such a knowledgeable presence on his coaching staff.

“Ninety percent of the stuff I learned in baseball I learned while playing at East. I learned more from [Martin] than I did from my college coach,” said Radbill. “Coach [Martin] was a pitcher and obviously can coach pitchers very well, but he can teach every position. He is going to be running the entire hitting portion of our program, and he’s going to be working with the outfielders on defense.”

Further, Martin doesn’t feel he’s behind on the latest South Jersey scouting reports despite being absent from the coaching scene for 2 years.

“I don’t think I removed myself [from the game]. Not only do I know the players in South Jersey, working at Eastern I saw a lot of the Olympic teams play. I went to see East play three times last year. I don’t think I ever totally removed myself from observing the opponents and I think I have a good handle of what’s expected in the Olympic/American division,” said Martin.

After making a surprising run to the South Jersey Group IV semi-finals last year, the varsity baseball team is looking to build on last year’s success. East returns all but two starters and has 15 varsity-letter-winners returning.

Yet, it’s the reemergence of a South Jersey Baseball Hall of Fame, 500-plus-career win coach that may bring East to the top of the Olympic conference this year.

Said Radbill, “[Martin] played for a tremendous high school program at Gloucester Catholic, pitched in the college world series for Southern Illinois University, has won 500 high school games…There’s no way he can’t be a positive influence on us.”