Everybody loves a good comeback story, especially in sports.
It has been 1,949 days since former Yankees pitcher Brett Marshall toed a big league mound. For most that may seem like an eternity ago and the name is probably nothing more than a footnote in your distant baseball memory. Now 28-years old and three years removed from pitching in affiliated ball, it still feels like yesterday for Marshall, who is working to pen the ultimate comeback story by inking a deal with a major league club this winter.
“I am putting all of my cards in,” Marshall said. “I am with a personal trainer down here in Houston – he is a guy that works with just about 30 pro guys; guys like Anthony Rendon, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Duffey, and Mark Melancon. He has been doing this for a long time – this is going to be my third year with him now. He is super awesome, super knowledgeable in terms of training and lifting and everything that goes into a baseball workout.”
Marshall added, “I see him five days a week and right now my body is feeling strong. I have already started throwing; I am seeing a massage therapist, and I am seeing a chiropractor once a week. When I say that I am putting all of my cards in – I am investing a lot in my body, and hopefully, it works in my favor, and I will be able to get on the mound and show it rather than just talking about how hard I work. The ultimate goal is, I don’t want to short myself, but I can see myself back in the big leagues. That is the ultimate goal.”
After pitching for three different teams in the Independent Atlantic League in 2018, the right-hander is scheduled to hold a workout in Arizona in the coming weeks with a handful of big league clubs slated to attend. Feeling as good as he has since 2014, this is the opportunity that Marshall has labored for over the better part of the last five years – he also knows that it could be his last.
“Stuff-wise, everything for me is still there. In my last game in the playoffs this past year when I was playing for Long Island, an MLB scout in the stands had me at 92-95 MPH. Knowing that it is still there and everything still works is big. Over the past year, I developed a slider, and that was kind of my go-to pitch. The arensal for me is still there – the sinker, the changeup, now the slider has gotten better and of course the curveball.“
Marshall added, “I have thought about it, and I have asked myself what keeps me going. To be honest, it’s the love of the game. I know that it sounds cheesy, but it is literally the love of the game. I think that it goes back to me as a kid, but ever since I was eight, I said that I was going to play for the New York Yankees. That was my dream, that was my goal, and I did it. I do know that I made it there once, why can’t I make it again? That drive inside is still there for me; the fire is still inside of me. I see a bunch of the guys that I played with and competed against in the big leagues. I came up with those guys, and I have beaten those guys at one point. Just knowing that keeps me going.”
The Texas-native was regarded among the slew of premier pitching prospects in the Yankees organization after being drafted by them in the sixth round in 2008. The young hurler had a dominant showing at Double-A Trenton in 2012 and entered the 2013 campaign ranked as the sixth-best prospect in the organization by Baseball America. A few short months later, the then 23-year old made his major league debut in what he hoped to be the start of a long and successful career. Marshall pitched to the tune of a 4.50 ERA in 12 innings spanning three appearances that season.
“I have my jersey from my debut up with the Yankees, and I will pull it out from time to time. I will look at it, and it is just crazy holding that uniform in my hand to remind myself that I did make it. It is a uniform that I know I will put back on one day. It might not be with the Yankees, but whatever uniform it may be, I know that I can put it back on. It is knowing that you made it and seeing guys that I know I can still compete with. As much of a rollercoaster as it has been for me, I still love this game.”
A roller coaster indeed. After acquiring veteran Carlos Beltran that winter, the Yankees needed to open a roster spot for him and opted to designate Marshall off of the 40-man roster. He was claimed by the Chicago Cubs, and less than two months later, claimed by the Cincinnati Reds just before spring training was set to begin.
“I have gone back and thought about what has happened over my career and why exactly I am here,” explained Marshall. “Only God knows why you are where you are, but when the Yankees DFA’d me, I had some questions that I wish I could answer. It throws you off because I was with the Yankees for so long and you get accustomed to that, and you feel like you’re home because that is all you know.”
“I didn’t let it get me down, and when the Cubs claimed me, I was very excited and was ready to move and be part of a World Series championship in Chicago,” added Marshall. “Then, of course, I was sent over to the Reds right before spring training had started. I wasn’t shocked. I could see myself as a pitcher that jumped from team to team and could help; I had good stuff, but I knew I wasn’t going to be a Clayton Kershaw or anybody like that. You never know with this game, and you never know what is going to happen or where you are going to be. I was all in, and I was having fun.”
Not only was he having fun in a new organization, but he was pitching well enough to catch the eye of Reds Manager Bryan Price in spring training. Marshall was 3-0 with a 2.07 ERA heading into his final tune-up start of the spring before the team was set to break camp and head north to begin the regular season.
“I was throwing the best baseball that I had ever thrown in my life,” said Marshall. ” My velocity was higher than normal; I was averaging right around 95 MPH that spring, I was throwing strikes and striking a lot of guys out. I shocked myself concerning what I was out there doing pitching-wise.”
Marshall added, “This freak injury happened to my finger during the last game of spring training right after Bryan Price had told me that I was going to be the fifth starter. He had penciled me in to pitch against the Mets in their home opener. I called my family and had them all book tickets and the next day I went out for my last start to just go out and get my five innings, one hundred pitches and that is when that injury happened to my finger.”
After delivering a fourth-inning slider in his final start, Marshall felt pain and knew right away that something was abnormal. An MRI revealed a torn pulley tendon in his right middle finger. The injury is common among avid rock climbers but is considered a rarity in baseball circles. Marshall opted not to have surgery and was placed on the 60-day disabled list to begin the season. A punch to the gut after he expected to break camp on a big league roster for the first time in his career.
“I never lost any confidence in myself, but it was like a punch in the stomach,” Marshall admitted. ” I knew that I was going to bounce back from it, but it was a weird injury. When I came back and started throwing and got back into games, it was a weird feeling. You are kind of babying your finger, not knowing whether or not it is going to pop again. When I had first gone to see a doctor he had told me that I was probably going to need to have surgery and he said it was comparable to Tommy John and that it may be tough to come back from. I had all of these thoughts running through my head. Luckily I didn’t need to have surgery, but that season took a toll on my mind constantly wondering if I was ever going to be able to throw a baseball again.”
Marshall added, “It healed, and I think that I was just trying to be a superhero coming back when I was with the Reds. I tried to come back way too fast when I wasn’t ready. We had some guys hurt up in the bullpen and the rotation. At the time I was 24 and not thinking about my health, but more so was just thinking about getting back to help the team. I put all of that on me and it is my fault, but it is something that I learned. From there I felt like I wasn’t able to command as good as I was, but I was back, and I had no finger problems, no shoulder or elbow problems. Knowing that was a peace of mind and that is what is still keeping me driven. I am still healthy, and I feel like I am in my prime and I feel like I am getting better mentally knowing what I can and can’t do.”
After returning to action following the injury, Marshall posted sub-par numbers with Triple-A Louisville in 2014 before the Reds granted him free agency that winter. Marshall soon after that inked a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies. After pitching to a 5.62 ERA in just seven outings in the Eastern League, the Rockies released him, forcing him to finish out 2015 making stops in the unaffiliated Frontier and Atlantic leagues. In 2016, Marshall came to terms with the Tampa Bay Rays but found himself released once again after just 15 appearances at Double-A. Since then the motivated righty has pitched exclusively in the Atlantic League while riding the ebbs and flows of a career hanging in the balance.
While most players would have walked away or found other avenues to pursue after enduring this many obstacles, Marshall remains driven to see his bumpy ride to its ultimate end. One that he believes will end with him wearing a uniform and pitching in front of thousands of fans on a big league rubber.
“What this rollercoaster has taught me is that this process is so humbling and it is something that you can never take for granted,” said Marshall. “I am not going to say that I ever took my career for granted, or took baseball for granted ever. I used to hear my idol Derek Jeter say to not ever take this game for granted. I was 22-years old when I was put on the 40-man roster and 23 when I got to the big leagues. I was on top of the world at 23, and everything was happening so fast. The next thing you know, you turn around, and I am at the point now where I am just trying to get an affiliated job. It is just amazing how fast things can be taken from you and how humbling it can be. It teaches you not only in terms of being a baseball player, but just being a man and what life is going to bring your way.”