Former Tiger Leonys Martin eternally grateful for 'second chance at life'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
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Because of bacterial infection at the end of last season, Indians outfielder Leonys Martin lost 40 pounds and most of his muscle mass.

Detroit — Leonys Martin wants you to know — he heard your prayers and he deeply, deeply appreciated it.

“I think all the prayers are why I’m here today,” said Martin, who for 78 games last season was an immensely popular Tigers’ outfielder. "It was a lot of prayer from all around the world. I didn’t know I had friends in Italy, Spain -- it’s crazy.

“That helped me a lot, mentally, to say, ‘Man, you’ve got to get through this situation.'"

The Tigers traded Martin to the Indians for shortstop prospect Willi Castro at the trade deadline last July. A couple of weeks later, Martin was in intensive care battling for his life.

“Just think about it,” he said. “You leave the ballpark one day after a night game and the next day you are fighting for your life in the ICU. It’s something crazy.”

He was stricken by a bacterial infection. He ended up losing 40 pounds and most of his muscle mass. It got to the point where he refused to look at himself in the mirror.

“I spent like a month in my house, not going anywhere,” he said. “I didn’t want anybody to see me. I didn’t want to talk to anybody.”

But he read all the get-well notes, all the prayers from Detroit, Cleveland and all points around the world, it seemed. And those prayers resonated and pushed him to stop feeling sorry for himself and start being an active participant in his own recovery.

“I really loved the time I spent here (in Detroit),” he said. “It was awesome. A great group of guys, great group of coaches. It was fun, really fun.  I really liked the city, everything about it, the fans.

"And when I got sick, the support I got from the fans here, it was impressive. Something I will never forget.”

Martin, who started in center field and led off Tuesday's game with a home run off of Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann, expects to do what he did when he was with the Tigers, playfully annoy manager Ron Gardenhire.

“Oh, I know we will hear him, that voice,” Gardenhire said, with a smile. “We missed him when he was gone. But I don’t want to hear it today, not from the other dugout (laughter). It’s always fun to see that guy.”

Martin is off to a slow start at the plate, just five hits in his first 28 at-bats. But, these days, things like grinding through an early hitting slump don’t get him down like they did before the illness.

 “This is the only thing I’ve known since I was eight or nine years old,” he said. “This is what I’ve been doing all of my life. Everything about it, I always enjoyed. Since last year, I enjoy it a little bit more. I got my second chance at life.

“I learned, everything can turn so quick. I got a good life, man. You don’t know when it can all be gone.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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