Fate leads Curve to new GM Martin

A young woman’s crush and $51 changed the course of Derek Martin’s life 10 years ago at Blair County Ballpark.

It was all part of a series of dominoes that have fallen perfectly over the years for “D-Mar,” as he’s known by many, and led him to become the Altoona’s Curve’s new general manager.

The franchise will introduce Martin in his new job today as he replaces Rob Egan, who left to become GM of the Triple-A Charlotte Knights.

“He’s young, and he’s got a lot of get up and go in him,” Curve owner Bob Lozinak said of the 37-year-old Martin. “He’ll do a great job for us.”

Martin will be a familiar name and face to longtime Curve fans as he spent six years in ticketing with the franchise from 2002-07. One of the more personable employees the club has ever had, he was popular back then for his people skills and friendliness, spending a lot of time walking around the ballpark during games hamming it up with fans.

As one source said, “Everybody likes D-Mar,” a sentiment echoed by numerous people contacted by the Mirror who have worked with him.

“I didn’t think I had much chance at all,” Martin, who lives in Roaring Spring, said about getting the GM job. “But I know my passion for the Curve and for baseball itself. I went in not thinking there was much of a chance, but the stars lined up, and it’s a dream come true.”

Speaking of the stars lining up, Martin’s path to this point is one long example of fate intervening and things happening for a reason.

He began his baseball career as an intern with the Reading Phillies in 2000, and after working in concessions at PNC Park in 2001, he was looking to get back into minor league baseball.

He reached out to then-Reading GM Chuck Domino, who suggested Martin place a call to Todd Parnell, the Curve’s GM at the time and a former Reading executive.

Martin quickly got a job offer from Parnell, setting in motion the sequence of events that 15 years later would have him coming back to the franchise as its GM.

“D-Mar’s engine is revved by passion and energy, combined with an expertise in sales,” Parnell, now vice president of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, said. “He will mesh very well both with the great job the Lozinaks do operating the franchise and the overall community in general.”

Martin has long been a member of this community in large part because of what happened in August of 2006.

The Curve held a charity bachelor auction promotion at Blair County Ballpark, as it was called then, with several employees up for bid. A young woman named Abby Harmon from Roaring Spring had a crush on the handsome Martin, so her mother, season-ticker holder Betsy Garach, swooped in late with a $51 bid to “win” his auction, beating out the second-place finisher by $1.

“As soon as they saw each other, there was electricity between them,” Garach told the Mirror for a 2008 Valentine’s Day story about how the couple met. “She was grinning. He was grinning. Their eyes were dancing.”

Derek said he probably never would have met Abby without the charity auction. That was followed up by a date, and lo and behold, a year later they got engaged – at the ballpark, on the party deck – and were married Feb. 2, 2008.

“Right from the beginning, I was, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s beautiful,'” Martin said back then, while Abby pointed out, “He’s such a wonderful, sensitive guy. He’s outgoing. He’s everything I would want.”

Shortly after getting engaged, Martin was offered a promotion to become assistant general manager of the Single-A franchise in Myrtle Beach, S.C., also owned by then-Curve owner Chuck Greenberg.

“I said, ‘Absolutely I’ll go,'” Martin said. “They’re like, ‘First tip to marriage, you better check with your future wife.’ I was like, ‘She’ll be all about it.'”

Derek and Abby moved to Myrtle Beach the next month, but through some homesickness and challenges with that franchise, the couple decided to come back to central Pennsylvania 17 months later.

At that point, Martin figured, “I thought the baseball career was over.”

“We moved back up to start our family, and we have three beautiful children,” he said.

Martin worked in finance for Blue Knob Auto for nearly four years, and in 2012 he took a job as a commercial insurance agent for the Teeter Group in Altoona.

He was a businessman, not a baseball man, and he was comfortable in that role.

Until, that is, he picked up the Altoona Mirror on Sept. 15 and saw a story about Egan leaving the Curve.

Derek and Abby, an English teacher at Northern Bedford High School, had the same train of thought upon learning that news.

“My wife had called me and said, ‘Did you see the Altoona Mirror this morning?'” he recalled. “I said, ‘I did.’ And she was like, ‘You have to go after this.'”

Had Martin’s wife not been from this area, there’s a good chance he never would have moved back to the region after things didn’t work out in Myrtle Beach.

Under a different set of circumstances, the Pittsburgh native and Slippery Rock University graduate might still be an insurance agent in another city.

But because all the dominoes fell into place, Martin found himself in quite a favorable position.

Lozinak wanted to hire someone local for the Curve GM job, and given his extensive baseball background and extensive ties to the business community built up over the past eight years, Martin emerged as the ideal candidate.

The only surprise in the whole situation is that Martin had no previous connection to the Lozinak family, who had already sold the franchise to Greenberg by the time D-Mar first came aboard. The consensus among Mirror sources was that Bob Lozinak would choose someone he already knew for the job, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

“His reputation was just so good that it made it pretty easy,” Lozinak said. “I asked everybody that was on the staff that knew him, and they said he was excellent. I’m comfortable with him.

“I like the fact that he’s from the area, he knows the area very well, has been there for many years. He’s got a proven track record of a person that’s a good salesman and does that very well, and his minor league experience in other places he did very, very well.”

Martin’s business resume not only includes baseball, finance and insurance, he’s also been an active community leader through his participation with a number of groups. He’s been involved with Leadership Blair County, the Jaffa Shrine, AMBUCS, Morrisons Cove Rotary and the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.

He’s already rubbed elbows with community business leaders in those roles, which can only help him now that he’s taking on a much bigger responsibility as the Curve’s GM.

“With each role that I have as a smaller leader in the community, I think that’s going to skyrocket, and I’m going to be very comfortable going into this big leadership role in the community,” he said.

One thing Lozinak and the Curve do not want to happen is to bring in a new GM for a couple of years, have that person leave for another job, and then start the process over again. Egan brought the franchise stability from 2009 through this past season, and given his extensive local ties, there’s no reason to believe Martin will be looking elsewhere as long as things go well in his new job.

“This is our home,” Martin said. “I couldn’t think of a better place to raise our family than at the ballpark. We are here to stay, and hopefully I’m here to stay for a long time with the Curve.”