Toronto Blue Jays slugger Russell Martin on how to handle insane pressure

Think your boardroom PowerPoint nerves are tough? Try staring down a major-league pitcher with millions of fans watching your every move

Russell Martin

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Toronto Blue Jays catcher (and hometown hero) Russell Martin on thriving under the stress of high-stakes situations when the whole world’s watching:


Performing under pressure is a big part of your job. How do you handle that?

If you see pressure as an opportunity, it can be a good thing. For me, that emotional rush you get playing sports is what it’s all about. Those big moments, where you can feel your heart beating faster, your palms growing sweaty—that’s your body getting rid of everything it doesn’t need so it can perform under that stress. And it’s a good stress, for me, at least. I feel like I’m stronger, faster and better when I’ve got that adrenalin pumping through my body.

For those of us more inclined to choke than thrive: Any advice on how to put a positive spin on that pressure?

I feel like I’m always talking to myself, rather than just listening. Maybe you’re running, and that voice in your head is saying, Oh no, I have five miles left, but then you talk to yourself, and it’s like, Shut up, I got this.

How did it feel to carry the hopes of an entire nation on your shoulders in last year’s playoff run?

Honestly, I don’t see it that way. I don’t think anybody could possibly have wanted it more than I wanted it. When I’m in the box, I’m not thinking about how all of Canada wants me to get this done; that’s not going to help me hit a line drive. I remember [legendary baseball manager] Joe Torre telling me that there are only a couple of things you can control in this game: your effort and your preparation. That’s what I focus on. The result isn’t something I can control.

As a pro athlete there is so much noise around your performance: People area constantly saying you’re on a streak, or you’re in a slump. Do you pay attention to that stuff?

I really try to focus on the day, the game. If you focus on trying to win, then you don’t really think of yourself in terms of how you’re doing personally. You’re thinking about the team, rather than your own stats.

How does Blue Jays manager John Gibbons help his players to keep things cool under pressure?

Gibby is such a laid-back human being. He’s not an intense, really hyper type of leader. He’s really the opposite of that; he’s composed, smooth. It definitely is contagious, somehow.

What’s your advice on calming your teammates’ locker-room jitters?

For big group speeches, the go-to guy is probably [Josh] Donaldson. I’m more the one-on-one, heart-to-heart kind of guy. That’s just more my style. Public speaking—now that makes me feel pressure.

More pressure than Game 5?

Oh, yeah. Maybe it goes back to high school, when I would have to do these oral essays, and I was never prepared. It’s the same thing—if you don’t want to feel pressure, just feel prepared.

What do you do to unwind when you’re not playing?

The thing is that I really enjoy what I do, I go out there and I have no fear. I think the bottom line is athletes love to compete. But I am a video game guy. I’ll play video games against my buddies, my teammates.

Who’s the best gamer on the Jays?

Darwin Barney’s pretty good. He gives me a run for my money, but if I’m going to be perfectly humble: I’m the best.