Eric Martin is the kind of athlete who can master any sport.
He played soccer and was involved in water sports including sailing while growing up near the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia, and now he plays lacrosse and surfs in the Pacific while living in hilly San Francisco, where his road bike comes in especially handy.
If he were handed a baseball bat, he’d probably hit a home run on his first swing.
``It’s busy,’’ he replies when asked to describe his lifestyle.
Martin, Cam Sedgwick and Curtis Hodgson joined the Stealth in 2005 and are the National Lacrosse League team’s longest-serving players.
Martin, 27, also plays for the San Francisco Dragons of the outdoor Major Lacrosse League after the NLL season, so he’s got a lacrosse stick in his hands nine months a year.
``There’s a lot of training, travel and commitments involved,’’ he says. ``Until the fall, there are few weekends off because I’ll go from my last Stealth game right into outdoor training camp.’’
He used to hold down a sales job, too, which is hard to imagine given his athletic pursuits. Now that he’s given that up, he concentrates entirely on lacrosse to make a living.
It all started when an uncle, Marshall Martin, bought him a stick. He’d just transferred for the ninth grade to a private high school, Norfolk Academy, which had a field lacrosse program. Former University of Virginia star Tom Duquette was the coach.
``He was a big early influence,’’ Martin recalls. ``He taught us the basics. When I went to Salisbury State (in Maryland) it was the same thing. I had a great college coach, Jim Berkman, who liked the run-and-gun style.’’
Stealth assistant general manager Doug Locker kept tabs on Martin and let him know San Jose was interested.
``I wanted to take a shot at the NLL,’’ says Martin. ``Guys from Salisbury like Jake Bergey had done it and done well.’’
Martin also wanted to try life on the other side of the continent.
``I felt I was the right type of person for the West Coast because I loved surfing and I knew San Francisco was one of the coolest cities in the country,’’ he says.
The Stealth selected him 12th overall in the 2004 NLL entry draft.
Martin gets better on the green carpet every year and was named an NLL all-star last season. The 151 loose balls he gathered in were fourth-best in the league. He’s also been an MLL all-star with the Dragons, who are managed by Locker.
The six-foot-two, 220-pound defenseman has missed only two games in his five years with the Stealth _ one in 2006 due to a concussion, and one this year because of a hip injury suffered in the season opener.
``I was kneed in the thigh and had a huge bone bruise,’’ he says. ``It really slowed me down for the first four games.’’
Martin spent a lot of time last month rehabbing in the same San Fran fitness facility used by other Bay Area pros including former 49ers superstar Jerry Rice.
The Stealth nearly went all the way last year, getting to the West Division final before losing by one goal to the Portland Lumberjax.
``We went in pretty confident,’’ Martin recalls. ``We’d played them tough every game. The right side of their offence, Dan Dawson and Ryan Powell, never hurt us, but both of them had exceptional games when we met in the playoffs. Their style of play, they can run you into the ground with their high-tempo transition style.
``We felt we had all the components. We had a good rhythm and everyone knew their role. It was real disappointing to lose.’’
Martin and the other veterans viewed the rematch Feb. 7 as payback time, but Portland beat them again, 16-13 this time. It’s taking time for San Jose’s revamped roster to gell. With a 2-4 record, the Stealth have a schedule bye this weekend. Their next game is at home on Feb. 21 against the Colorado Mammoth.
``I didn’t realize how much turnover there was going to be,’’ Martin says of all the personnel changes. ``It’s definitely been a big change. The team last year was more laid back. Guys were hilarious. We’d laugh for an entire road trip, and we’d still play great lacrosse.
``Now, we’re still in the process of kind of reforming the team. Our rookies, guys like Rhys Duch, can play though. Paul Rabil is coming around. Alex Turner is good. They can all play the game. They’re impressive. There are going to be little glitches here and there but the future looks good.’’
The most encouraging aspects of the team’s play so far, says Martin, have been a productive power play and the larceny habitually displayed by goaltender Matt Roik.
``I didn’t realize before we got him how good he is,’’ says Martin. ``He’s had some amazing games.’’
The absence due to injury of defenseman Mike Grimes hasn’t helped, and Rabil’s role hasn’t been conclusively identified, but this is a team with great potential.
``We’ve got a lot of athleticism _ maybe more than last year,’’ says Martin.
While Stealth players who live in San Jose regularly hook up to toss balls around, Martin trains mainly on his own on weekdays, and surfs, of course. He’ll be in the ocean about two days a week during the NLL season. He was to pick up a new board this week. In the fall, he’ll be on it for as many as five days a week.
``I use it as a form of training (for lacrosse),’’ he says. ``And whenever I’ve got turf burn from a game, I’ll go surfing in 50-degree water and get that soreness right out of me.’’
A cargo ship spilled oil in San Francisco Bay last year and it was washing up on beaches. Martin, his girlfriend and a surfing buddy hauled horsehair mats into the ocean and cleaned up as much of the mess as they could.
When gas went over $4 a gallon, he left his truck parked and mostly used his bike to get around the city.
There is not a more fit athlete in the NLL than Eric Martin, a multisport all-star if there ever was one.
~ Neil Stevens played box lacrosse growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he attended the same high school as did Stealth GM John Mouradian. Years later, as a sports writer for The Canadian Press wire service, Stevens began covering after NLL expansion into Canada in 1998 the home games of the Toronto Rock and the league in general. In 2008, Mouradian and Stevens were inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame _ John in the builders' category and Neil as a media honouree. At the age of 61, Stevens is now retired, but still covering Rock games and writing weekly NLL columns for the wire service for distribution to daily newspapers across Canada.~