'Each person has an equation': Mariners' high-performance expert is carving her own path

SEATTLE - The Mariners' 2018 season gets underway Thursday against the Indians at Safeco Field. For several years, the squad has been plagued with injuries and have failed to reach their promised potential. This year, the team has a new member who could change that.

Her name is Dr. Lorena Martin, and she’s the club’s first director of high performance. In that role, Martin will oversee all of the Mariners' physical and mental training, creating a more holistic approach to managing the players in hopes of better results on the field. While she’s never played baseball herself,  Martin is beyond qualified to take it on. She’s got a masters in Psychology, a PhD in Exercise Physiology and three post doctorates. But her personal journey might just be her biggest asset.

Martin has been with the Mariners for nearly five months now and said she has never felt like an outsider.

"There is sense of a good relationship and I think it comes from we see eye to eye. They know that I can relate," Martin said.

Relate may be an understatement. Lorena knows first-hand the pressure of professional sports after spending years trying to make a living as a tennis player.

“I wanted to just play pro. I didn’t have the means to go play tournaments, so I actually worked for an airline, Iberia Airlines, it’s a Spanish airline, so that I could be able to travel to the tournaments.”

When injuries would sideline her, Lorena found comfort in the classroom.

“I signed up for computer science and I switched immediately to psychology cause I thought it would be a way to help my own performance because sports psychologists are expensive and there was no way for me to do that so how could I help myself in this way and this avenue," she said.

She soon found that she’d carved quite the niche for herself. She published a book on sports performance measurements and developed a first of its kind course on the subject for Northwestern University.

“It’s not just your skill acquisition," she said. "It’s your conditioning, it’s your mental health, it’s your nutrition, it’s how well do you sleep.”

Martin can see all the nuances that add up to peak performance, and the Mariners share her vision. While other organizations just focus on certain aspects through their mental health coaches, or separate nutritionists, Martin looks at it all.

She’s a first generation Spanish-Cuban American. Her family didn’t have much money.  She’s clawed her way back from numerous injuries.  A divorce almost derailed her tennis career. She understands athletes inside and out.

"To be a professional athlete you’re pretty much have to have some sense of perfectionism and mastery and self-criticism," she said."

The Mariners want to end their postseason drought, the longest of any team in professional sports. The organization thinks Martin's methods are the answer, so they’re giving her free rein.

“I’m gathering all the information from everybody, I want their suggestions and then I’m going to say, look, based on the data and of course in combination with the mangers, this is the best thing for their player and we’re going to do that," Martin said. “I like to say each person has an equation, and of course in every equation or in every statistical model you have the error term, something that you cannot control, but what we are trying to do is limit that room for error and try to find out what is the best equation of algorithm for that person to get into their zone and perform at their best.”

Lorena is one of only two people who hold her job in MLB, and one of the few women working in baseball operations. She says she’s excited to carve this trail for other women in pro sports and, along with the Mariners, pioneer the way for sports science in Major League Baseball.