Boise State Football

After release by Cubs, ex-Boise State football player eyes MLB shot or gridiron return

Joe Martarano finds himself at an interesting crossroads again.

When he emerged from Fruitland High as one of Idaho's best pro baseball prospects in years, opportunities in the Major League and the Boise State football team beckoned. For a while, he balanced both before leaving college football in March 2017 to play in the Chicago Cubs' system.

An ankle injury kept him out of almost all spring training work this year, and the Cubs released him April 16. Working out back home, he's getting healthy and hoping for another Major League shot — or perhaps a return to the football field.

"It's a waiting game. I'm hoping to hear from another team, so we'll see what happens after the draft (June 4-6), which might have an effect," Martarano said. "But if I don't hear from anyone soon, I definitely like the idea of playing one more year of football."

Martarano played middle linebacker for the Broncos from 2013 to 2016, starting seven games, making 120 tackles and forcing a fumble. He left the team after the first spring practice of 2017. This past season was the last he could be eligible at a Division I program, so he won't be playing for Boise State again — or Idaho or Idaho State, for that matter. But he has fielded calls from coaches at lower levels interested in him playing as a redshirt senior.

"I think it would be really fun," Martarano said. "I've been looking a bit and talking to some coaches around the Northwest about it, figuring out my eligibility. So if that gets straightened out, it's definitely an option."

Getting back into football shape would take some time, which is why Martarano hopes to make a decision soon.

He was drafted by the Phillies in the 13th round in 2013, but opted to play football at Boise State. The Cubs selected him in the 22nd round in 2014, and Martarano played in the minors that summer and in the summer of 2015 before focusing solely on football in summer 2016.

Last year, Martarano hit .250 in 47 games for short-season Single-A Eugene and full-season Single-A South Bend, including a pair of home runs. He batted .340 in Eugene, earning a promotion, but struggled in South Bend, finishing with a .208 average.

"I thought it was a good year, everything considered, and I started playing better at the end," Martarano said.

Because of his injury Martarano wasn't stunned by his release, understanding it can happen in any sport. If neither sport works out, he plans to return to college to finish his degree. But just as he did five years ago, he may have to make that familiar choice again.

"It's never easy to accept getting cut. It was tough to hear, but I don't think my athletic career is over by any means," Martarano said.