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Elk Grove Citizen

Martin Vega: From Mexico to Florin Panthers Ace

May 02, 2024 03:28PM ● By Matthew Malone

Martin Vega on the mound against the Galt Warriors, where Vega pitched a complete game. He allowed four hits, no runs surrendered and struck out 10 batters in the Florin Panthers’ 10-0 win on April 22. Photo by Alejandro Barron

By Alejandro Barron

ELK GROVE, CA (MPG) - The Florin Panthers’ current left-handed ace, Martin Vega, was destined to thrive in baseball … at least that’s what his dad said the second he realized his son was a lefty. 
“He was a year old and it was the first time we let him eat by himself instead of spoon-feeding him, and he reached for the spoon with his left hand,” Margarito Vega said. 
Another telling sign was when Margarito, an avid soccer player, placed him as a goalkeeper for the first time and Martin would block shots with a swinging motion as if he had a bat in his hand, he said. 
Martin Vega was born in Sacramento with his twin brother, Emanuel, on April 25, 2005, to Mexican-born parents.
After about a year and a half of living in the U.S., Martin said his family returned home in Mexico to a town on the outskirts of Salamanca, Guanajuato, called La Luz. 
He’s known by his family and friends as “La Pulga,” or the flea, with many not knowing his real name. 
“We had gone to a party and there was a clown there named ‘Pulga’ and my sister had said I looked like that clown, and ever since then that nickname stuck with me,” Martin said.
His love for baseball started with his family, although his dad played soccer and Martin’s uncles and cousins played baseball. 
While he was growing up, his dad said that he had a good strike zone but would always try to keep him working hard, as he said there will always be someone better so he shouldn’t think he’s the best. 
In 2021, Martin came back to the United States with his father, after spending most of his life in Mexico, for educational purposes and to attend Florin High School.
He would start high school as a sophomore, and at first Martin struggled with his English.  
“At first everything was different and little by little I got used to it,” Martin said. “I came here with the mentality that I needed to study and learn English, but it was one of the most difficult things I faced when I first got to school.” 
Martin said he had no idea there was a baseball team at Florin, but he noticed one day that there were other people playing catch, so the next day he and his brother brought their gloves to play.  
Those who saw them playing catch approached them to ask them if they wanted to join the baseball team. 
In his first year at Florin, Martin met head coach Bill Kapp, who had just become the head coach of the baseball team and athletic director. 
“His sophomore year I took over the program and he was out there for fall ball and you can tell already he was a pretty good ballplayer and it started from there, but we’ve grown a lot together,” Kapp said.
Kapp said that at first Martin was struggling with his grades as he was learning English and earning a 2.0 GPA, but now he has over a 3.0 because he wants to make sure he’s eligible to play baseball. 
As for his performance on the diamond, Martin has a total 3.38 ERA, 12-10 record and 189 strikeouts across 141.2 innings pitched since his first season in 2022. 
Both Kapp and Martin were part of the 2022 squad that ended Florin’s long playoff drought, which began long before MaxPreps kept records of high school seasons. 
Given the circumstances of Martin’s journey — coming from Mexico, learning English and now thriving as Florin’s established ace — Kapp said his story should be turned into a movie. 
“This would be a great story with a kid who came from Mexico, who worked really hard, his mom is in Mexico and his dad is here; he struggled in school then suddenly became a good student and now he’s our ace on the mound,” Kapp said. 
Over the years, Martin has become more mature, Kapp said. With the number of Spanish-speaking students there are at Florin, Martin will go out on his own to the junior varsity baseball team to give them pointers, which is one reason he was named a captain this year. 
Martin brings what Kapp describes as “the Mexican style of baseball” with his grit and hard-working attitude to the Florin diamond, where he will never make excuses when it comes to taking the field. 
“Over there, baseball is played more aggressive, more competitive and with a lot of pressure from the crowd, so I’m already used to that even with people screaming at me from the dugout, so I’ve already lived through that and I used it to my advantage since I won’t lose focus,” Martin said. 
As far as Martin’s future, he wants to play college baseball but said his ability to speak English leaves him with mixed feelings.
“The language barrier is a disadvantage for me to be able to go to college,” Martin said. 
Regardless, if he doesn’t continue to play baseball, he hopes to continue studying and become fluent in English. 
Kapp, who believes Martin should be the Greater Sacramento League player of the year, said Martin’s future is what he wants, but the coach knows that he can play college baseball and can be successful. 
This is arguably Martin’s best season yet, as he currently has a 5-3 record, a 1.38 ERA in 50.2 innings pitched while also hitting .435 with 28 RBIs and two home runs, according to MaxPreps. The Panthers are 9-0 in the GSL.
At the time of publication, Martin is chasing the single-season strikeout record at Florin, which is 96 by Daryl Grant in 1995.