At 6’1”, 175 lb., Martin Cervenka is a right-handed hitter who looks like he belongs on a ball field.
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, he was the first Czech player to sign with the Indians organization. He has been playing baseball as a professional since he was 16. Now 24 years old, this is his first year at the High-A level.
“It was exciting for me,” he said about signing. “Ever since I was young I wanted to play pro baseball. Luckily I got the opportunity with Cleveland. It was just cool to have the experience.”
His father had played baseball, and Martin picked up where his father left off. When he was about eight years old, his father asked him what position he wanted to play. “I told him I wanted to be a catcher. I just loved the position, and my brother was a pitcher, so I thought it would work out.”
So far it has. While completing his high school education, he spent his summers, two months at a time, playing baseball in Australia. “It was a MLB academy,” he said. “A bunch of guys who had signed pro contracts.”
He would also attend extended spring training before heading to Australia. Upon turning 18 and graduating, Cervenka was finally ready to get his first taste of affiliated baseball. In both 2011 and 2012, he played in the Arizona League, a short-season league for newly drafted and developing players.
It was difficult to be so far from home, but every off-season he returns home to Prague.
“The first couple of years I was in the United States it was tough,” said Cervenka, “but I think that I’ve grown up, with more experience, and that has made it easier for me.”
The current season marks his seventh playing in the states, and he has finally advanced to High-A coming out of spring training. He had four games with the Hillcats in 2016, but spent most of his season with the Low-A Lake County Captains.
Looking at his professional record Cervenka has continued to improve each season. The 2016 season marked career high points in games played (96), at-bats (342), hits (93) and home runs (6). Nearly every number in his batting statistics was a career high.
In his four games with the Hillcats, he hit .545, and this season he has continued to show skills with the bat. His current average is .308, second only to teammate Sam Haggerty, and he has tallied two home runs, ten RBIs, and a .795 OPS in the 18 games he has played.
“I’m trying to get a good pitch to hit out over the plate,” said Cervenka about his batting style. “I’m trying to keep it simple, not think too much. Hitting to the gap in right center is my strength, hitting the ball the other way.”
Working with hitting coach Kevin Howard, he continues to practice the consistency of his swing, and keeping that consistency through batting practice, pre-game work, and into each game. His goal is having the same type of swing every time he comes to bat.
Being one of three catchers on Lynchburg’s roster, Martin has only played behind the dish five games this season, with the rest of his appearances being as the designated hitter.
“We have fun together,” he said about working with fellow catchers Daniel Salters and Sicnarf Loopstok. “We push each other to get better.”
Cervenka is fluent in both Czech and English, and having had six years of Italian in high school, he has picked up some Spanish as well. This makes it easier to communicate with teammates, and especially pitchers.
Since signing in 2009, he has played with the Czech national team twice. The first time was in 2012 where the team went to the World Baseball Classic.
“It’s really exciting to represent your country,” said Cervenka. “What helped me is you play against guys who have played in AAA, guys with some experience in pro ball, and overall you get to see better pitching.”
He also played with the Czech team in 2016, but they did not qualify for the WBC that time out.
As he continues to work hard and develop his game in the United States, Cervenka will always return home to Czechoslovakia.
“If you visit the Czech Republic you definitely need to go to Prague,” urges Cervenka. “It’s different from the US. Here there are a lot of big buildings, while in Prague there are more old buildings than new.”
Each year, Cervenka has surpassed his previous level of success. Only one month into the 2017 season, he looks to be continuing on the same trajectory. Often batting cleanup for the Hillcats, Cervenka has the experience and work ethic to continue to pursue his boyhood dream of playing professional baseball.