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March 19, 2013

Rangers Leonys Martin becomes a U.S. citizen

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Leonys Martin is in the midst of one of the best times in his life. He is playing well in spring training and could emerge as the Texas Rangers’ everyday center fielder.

Martin, a 25-year-old who defected from Cuba in 2010, also became a United States citizen Monday in Miami.

“It’s one of the happiest moments of my life,” Martin said. “But it doesn’t stop here. I’ve got to keep working hard to reach the ultimate goal and we have to do it as a team. Personally, it gives me a peace of mind and I’m very happy right now.”

Martin defected from Cuba, a closed communist country, three years ago during the World University Baseball Championship in Taiwan. He signed a five-year, $15.5 million contract with the Rangers on May 4, 2011, and has been on the road to the big leagues ever since.

Martin has had stints with the Rangers the past two seasons, but it appears he’s ready to become a full-time big leaguer. He went into Tuesday’s game with a .359 batting average and seven RBIs over 39 Cactus League at-bats.

“He’s getting better and he just has to keep working,” manager Ron Washington said. “He hasn’t figured anything out yet and we’re going to make sure that he doesn’t get into that mode where he thinks he’s figured something out. I’m going to make sure he becomes a pro under my watch.”

When he does, it will cap off quite a journey for Martin. It wasn’t an easy decision to defect and, as he has said, the process took him to Japan and then to a difficult limbo in Mexico.

“It was very difficult leaving my friends back home and making new friends in this new country, but three years have past,” Martin said. “I’ve made new friends and the transition was not so easy but smoother than I thought.”

Outside of baseball, Martin said he is most looking forward to being a U.S. citizen and starting a charitable foundation.

“It will help the poor and kids with problems, kids with cancer,” Martin said. “So this is something I look forward doing in this country and we’re just happy that we’re in the process of doing it.”

-- Drew Davison

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