20th of Apr | Story

Back on the bus


HUNTSVILLE, Alabama | Eric Marzec walks from the dugout to the bullpen along the third-base line and takes the last seat on the bench. For the next three hours, he barely moves, says fewer words than the half-dozen guys sitting next to him. His head constantly tilted to the right, he watches the game being played in front of him.

Baseball is a patient man’s game. More than skill, more than talent, Marzec focuses on mental toughness. The toughness it takes to sit on the bench for hours and remain prepared to possibly be called into a game. The toughness it takes to step on the mound and try to be perfect for one, maybe two, innings. The toughness it takes to work toward pitching in the Majors.

That mentality, that focus is what has gotten him here, to the Double-A Huntsville Stars. After just six games with the High-A Brevard County Manatees, this is already his second stop of the season.


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I knew Marzec before he towered a foot above me. We grew up in Jackson Township, Ohio, about a mile and a half away from each other. We attended St. Michael School. We rode the same bus.

I’m four years older, and back on the bus, I remember him being a bit rambunctious, a bit of a jokester – the same way most elementary school boys, including my younger brother, can be after six hours in a classroom.

But today, on the field, at work, he’s measured in his demeanor, in his words and in his actions.

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Marzec learned about the highs and lows of the game long before he made it to this level.

He was still playing on the JV team as a sophomore at Central Catholic High School in Canton, Ohio. He made it to varsity his junior year – just enough time to be recruited. Then, right after that season, he suffered a stress fracture in his hip. Surgery and crutches for six month turned away every college. He calls the injury “disastrous.”

“The chances weren’t great that I would recover from that, but I was OK to play my senior year,” he says. “Somehow, I got better and someone gave me a chance to play at Youngstown State, so I took that offer and ran with it.”

Marzec was told he probably would never play for the Penguins. He started all four years. Still, there were injuries. His junior year, he was hit by a pitch that broke his left hand. His senior year, a collision in the outfield left him with a concussion and broken facial bones.

Those injuries, coupled with a perceived lack of talent when compared to high school and college teammates, forced him to hone his focus. He had to have the concentration, the believer mentality, both on and off the field. It’s his strength. It’s how he got here.

“That’s the biggest thing you need to learn when you get to pro ball, the mental side of it,” he says. “Not so much the tools of the game.”

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Our parents no longer live in the same houses where we grew up, but when I go back there, I drive by the fields where many kids, including Marzec, begin to dream of the big leagues.

With all the adversity he’s overcome, he constantly reminds himself to have fun with the game – a lesson he remembers hearing from Doug Miller, his high school baseball coach.

“This is my job, but back in high school it all came down to (the fact that) this is a game,” Marzec says. “If you have a bad day at work, and you’re upset, and you’re not doing something, step back and say, ‘Well, it’s better than other people’s bad day at work.’ I’m definitely thankful to just still be playing and doing the thing I’ve been doing since I was six years old.”


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Marzec was a position player and a pitcher until the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the 30th round to come out of the bullpen.

“It’s an adjustment, but that’s the thing,” he says. “It’s my second year pitching full-time and you learn stuff every day,” he says. “I’m learning a lot about pitching that I never knew before because I just used to throw the ball. Now, like I said earlier, it’s a mind game. When you’re going up there against the hitters, it’s like moving pieces on a chess board.”

Like any young pitcher or player, Marzec still works on separating what happens on and off the field. Marzec and Brevard County arrived from spring training on a Monday to prepare for their season opener Thursday. After six games with the Manatees, he was called up to Huntsville. There’s the new team and the new city, but there are also moving logistics and unpacking. His car was on a truck about to be shipped to Florida when he got the call that he was moving to Alabama. Last season, he moved two times among three teams.

“Again, it deals with the mindset during the game because it can be stressful,” he says. “It’s all based around this game and, level to level, it doesn’t really matter. You still have to show up to pitch.”

Joe Ayrault, Marzec’s manager last year during his Rookie League stint with the Helena Brewers and again this year in Brevard County, says he’s seen few players work harder than Marzec.

“Spring training, I’d get up, be rolling into the ballpark around 5:30 and going in to get my breakfast, and he’d be in there on the elliptical or doing something. ‘Dude, better save something for the game,’” Ayrault says he would tell Marzec. “His work effort is off the charts. He’s intelligent, a hard worker. He’s a manager’s dream to have in the bullpen, always ready, always stretching. Workaholic.”

Marzec pitched last night. Tonight he isn’t needed in Huntsville’s come-from-behind win. Now, he says, he’s at a place where he needs to dial back the concentration on pitching, working hard, making it to the Majors.

He needs to let things just happen. But it’s hard. Because he knows from experience that’s what works.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason


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