Oliver Marmol, who has managed Palm Beach the last two years, was promoted Thursday to be the first-base coach for the Cardinals next year. (staff)

Want to know more about Oliver Marmol, promoted Thursday to be the first-base coach for the Cardinals next season? This is his in-depth story, excerpted from “Taking Flight, the St. Louis Cardinals and the building of baseball’s best franchise,” published this spring by Triumph Books.

By Rob Rains

Even though Jupiter, Fla., is more than 1,100 miles and three levels from St. Louis, there is perhaps no team in the Cardinals’ farm system more connected to the major-league team than the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals.

The team uses the same clubhouse the major-league players occupy in spring training as well as the same weight room, the same training facilities, the same batting cages and play their home games in the same stadium.

Just outside the door of the clubhouse is manager Oliver Marmol’s office, the same one occupied by Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny for six weeks in February and March.

That connection, Marmol believes, carries an important message about how the organization truly is one large family.

“You hear that this is a ‘family’ all the time, and I truly believe it is true here,” Marmol said. “There is a close relationship between all of the staff members. This is a small complex, and when the major-league team is here, the minor-league people are right down the hall. You can’t really hide from anybody.

“That closeness between everybody makes it fun to come to work. We can have disagreements but we speak freely and respectfully and we work it out and come to the best conclusion. I think that’s part of what makes us good.”

Sometimes the conversations a manager has with a player in the office are difficult, and no one knows that better than Marmol. He has been on both sides of the desk in this office.

Marmol was a 23-year-old infielder on the Palm Beach Cardinals in 2010 when he was called into the office and informed that he was being released.

The news wasn’t really a surprise to Marmol, who had been drafted by the Cardinals in the sixth round of the 2007 draft out of the College of Charleston (S.C.) but had not really progressed the way either he or the organization had hoped.

During his four years, Marmol never hit better than .221 and never played a game above A ball. The Cardinals saw skills beyond his playing ability, however, and when releasing him as a player, offered him a chance to stay in the organization. He served as the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals in 2011 and then became the manager of rookie-level Johnson City in 2012.

Marmol moved up to State College, Pa., in the New York-Penn League in 2013 and spent two years managing the Spikes, winning the league title in 2014, before he was promoted to Palm Beach for the 2015 season.

“In my head, even when I was in college, I knew I wanted to some day coach and lead other men,” Marmol said. “When was the question – how long I could play this game. When that decision was made for me, it was a really easy transition. I never had an itch to play again. Maybe I just didn’t miss hitting .220, but I never had an itch to get back on the field and play the game.

“I can honestly say I enjoy leading these guys from a managing standpoint much more than I did playing. It’s not even close.”

Perhaps it is because of his background as a player that Marmol has become an effective leader at a young age – he was just 25 when he began managing in Johnson City, at the time the youngest manager in affiliated ball in the minor leagues – but those skills also can be traced back even farther, to when he was growing up, and learned the importance of helping others from his parents.

“I grew up always seeing my parents being very giving,” he said. “They were always very lending of their time and resources, so I saw that as kind of a norm.”

Marmol’s family was living in Miami in the summer of 1992, the year he turned six, when Hurricane Andrew struck south Florida, destroying at least 800 homes. One of them belonged to his family.

“We had absolutely nothing,” Marmol said. “I remember pretty vividly how people came along to help us. Seeing how people gave their time and money, food and resources, everything, had a lasting impact on me.”

When he was a junior in high school, after the family had moved to Orlando, Marmol began going to church – and learned another lesson in the importance of helping others before yourself. That is still something he is doing now, and in bigger and more meaningful ways than he likely thought possible – using his platform of his baseball career.

The minister of his church in Palm Beach first approached Marmol and his wife, Amber, a few years ago about going to visit an orphanage run by his daughter in Guatemala. The couple agreed and went there in February 2011.

“That trip opened my eyes completely to what else is out there,” Marmol said. “I saw all of the needs and some of the things we could help with immediately.”

The Marmol’s saw that the mission of the orphanage was to try to teach children a trade so they might be able to support themselves once they reached adulthood.

“When Amber and I got back we started talking about how could we do something that would have some longevity and have some sustained giving,” he said. “We saw ways we could help.”

The Marmol’s created a company for his side job of offering batting lessons and baseball instruction. They decided half of the money earned through the company would be given away.

“The first year we were able to give money to help a village in Haiti,” Marmol said. “They sent us a picture of a big wooden table with probably 20 kids sitting around it. They had been eating one meal maybe every three days or so. For six months after our donation they were eating two or three meals a day.”

Their donations included building a chicken farm and providing the chickens, another way of insuring the children in the village would have something to eat.

“It was cool to see that immediate return,” Marmol said. “We are now trying to partner with other people and find ways to do more. I couldn’t care less who gets the credit. At the end of the day it’s ‘Are these kids eating? Are they getting an education? Are they being led spiritually and in the right direction?’”

The Marmol’s became friends with the founders of Hope Project International, and they were approached in 2014 about taking another mission trip, this time to Nicaragua, and make it a “baseball” mission trip.

“They asked me if I could get a couple of players to take that trip,” he said. “We got it going kind of on the spur of the moment. Three players who were on the State College team – Nick Thompson, Collin Radack and Jeff Rauh – agreed to go with us.”

What they saw on the trip to Cristo Rey in November 2014 was even more powerful than what Marmol and his wife had observed the previous year during their visit to the orphanage in Guatamala.

“The poverty we saw really opened our eyes, the way those kids were living,” he said. “They were poking through trash. There literally was nothing but trash up your knees for as far as you could see. There was nothing there.”

Marmol said the group literally saw children following dump trucks filled with trash, hoping they could be the first to find something they could eat when the trucks emptied their load.

“We were in a minivan and when we turned the corner, that was literally all we could see,” Marmol said. “That’s how life happens there.”

Radack had been to Nicaragua before, but had never seen anything like what he experienced on this trip.

“When I was a freshman in college I went with my church group,” Radack said. “We went and built a house and did some stuff with a school. We stayed in Managua.

“We were definitely in a poorer community on this trip. They lived in a trash dump.”

The group spent their first two days in Nicaragua rebuilding a house for a family where the children had to hide under a staircase when it rained because of a leaking roof. In addition to trying to stay dry, they were worried the roof would collapse.

They also visited an orphanage in the area, learning more about what they could do to help and perhaps provide some hope and smiles for the children.

The answer, as Marmol expected would be the case, was baseball.

Marmol and the players had brought with them a lot of baseball equipment with them to donate to the children, in hopes of using the game to provide some enjoyment into their lives.

For children who had used sticks for bats, socks wrapped around marbles for balls and tree stumps for bases, being able to use real bats, balls and gloves did indeed bring the smiles that Marmol and the players in his group had hoped to see.

“Man those kids went nuts,” Marmol said soon after he returned home from the trip. “It was unbelievable. It really was.”

The next day, when more children showed up, Marmol and his players divided everyone into two teams and played an actual game.

Marmol did not forget about those children he and the players had met when he returned to Florida. He went to work trying to raise more money, planning for another trip.

Marmol planned to go back in Nicaragua after the 2015 season to lay the groundwork for the construction of a two-floor building that would include a kitchen and a computer lab.

“We want to see them learn how to cook and learn a trade,” Marmol said. “We want to get an idea of the costs and what the building will look like, and hopefully can start the project sooner rather than later.”

The next stage of the project will hopefully include the development of a baseball field.

“It would be really cool to offer those kids an outlet of baseball, something they could have fun doing,” Marmol said. “We’re trying to find the funding for it, then a lot of it already is a go. We want people to come on board and see the overall picture of what we are trying to do.”

Marmol is hopeful there will be a way that he can connect baseball to getting the kids going to school on a regular basis, beginning to provide an education for children where one is often not available. Access to medical care could follow.

“It’s just the beginning of something that can be pretty neat,” he said. “I’d like to go back and start building some of that. We’re getting some of the layouts of the buildings and the projected costs together. We’re starting to take a better look at how we can get the project moving.”

The Marmol’s also have stayed in touch with the children they met at the orphanage in Guatemala more than five years ago. The common bond is that after they returned home, there was a period of reflection for the Marmol’s and how those trips had forever changed their lives.

“When we got back (from Nicaragua) a comment was made to my wife and I that It (the trip) had shown us how blessed we are,” Marmol said. “Not that it rubbed me the wrong way, but the big picture is yes we are blessed but now let’s do something about it. We do have a lot, even when we think we don’t, we do.

“It gives you a perspective not so much on what we have but how we can truly make an impact and it’s not hard. When people come together and don’t care about who gets the credit you can accomplish a heck of a lot. You can make a difference in those people’s lives.”

The parallel to his job as a minor-league manager, even if not in a financial sense, is obvious.

“It does give you an interesting perspective about what it is we do here,” Marmol said, sitting in the chair behind his desk in the concrete-walled office. “It doesn’t change my outlook on the importance of what we do here. The truth is it actually makes me want to do this job that much better. The better we are at what we do in our job the greater impact we can continue to have outside of here.

“My job when I get here is to plan how I can make an impact on the lives that are in that clubhouse and lead them to be men that know how to lead others – to understand their careers are important and provide them the ability to have an impact out there. This job is extremely important.”

As a manager, even now at the age of 28, Marmol is only a few years older than the players he is directing. When he was in State College in 2013, he actually was younger than one of his players, returning Navy Lt. Mitch Harris.

Away from the field, however, Marmol is usually drawn to people older than himself – for a reason.

“Growing up I had three older brothers,” Marmol said. “My wife one time asked me something about why most of my friends were older. Most of my friends now are a lot older than me. I always found it interesting to look at other people’s lives and learn from them.

“A lot of things I learned came from my brothers. There were a lot of things I learned not to do, just observing what works and what doesn’t work and how to implement it in my own life. I don’t talk much. I do a lot of observing, figuring out the best ways to go about doing things, whether in life or just in this job.”

While much of what he learned about managing came while watching and observing during his playing career, Marmol also has sought out advice from others in the Cardinal organization – Mike Shildt, Mark DeJohn, Gary LaRocque, Mike Matheny and others.

“Really the biggest lesson I have learned about this job is that you are managing people,” Marmol said. “That’s the most important thing – caring about them as people and not as players. I’ve learned that’s what gets you results, how you get people to play really hard for you. They have to know you care about them.”

Marmol never had the chance to meet George Kissell, but he knows the legacy – and is continuing to put Kissell’s philosophy into action.

“You have to learn if they have kids, you have to know about their wives,” he said. “That’s important. The baseball stuff is different. They are natural competitors and they are all going to compete to get better on the field. That’s a given. Let’s care about them as people and get them to understand this is a family and we’re going to go in this direction.

“I know I catch myself thinking during games about ‘when do I hit and run’ and ‘when do I bunt’ and that’s important and you have to know those things really well but learning how to manage people and get the most out of them is more important.”

Marmol got a first-hand lesson in the importance of relationships during his time in State College, when he and his players met a special 10-year-old named Josiah Viera.

The youngster first became associated with the team when it was a Pirates’ affiliate, through the Children’s Miracle Network. He came to a couple of games in 2013, getting to know Marmol, the coaches and some of the players and was at almost every home game in 2014.

Josiah was only a few months old when his family learned he was suffering from a rare medical condition known as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria, which causes premature aging in children.

“He’s gone through a lot and fought through a lot, more than anything we’ve ever fought through,” Marmol said. “He brings joy to the field every day. He thinks we’re doing something for him but he did a tremendous job of bringing life to that clubhouse and putting everything in perspective.

“It was definitely an inspiration to have him in the clubhouse and around the guys and just being part of the group. The guys loved having him around.”

The Spikes gave Josiah his own locker in the clubhouse, and uniform number 10, and he participated in the pre-game drills, batting practice and the exchange of lineup cards before games, which he took in from the dugout. All the while, Josiah kept reminding the team of his goal for the season.

“From the very beginning he said he wanted a championship,” Marmol said.
The Spikes honored Josiah’s wishes by winning the New York-Penn League title, and Josiah was there to join in the post-game celebration.

“It was special for him to be there for it and for us to pull it off,” Marmol said. “It definitely was an added bonus.”

Josiah’s grandfather drove him to Troy, N.Y., so he could be there for the final game of the championship series against the Tri-City Valley Cats, an Astros farm club.

He was cheering as the Spikes exploded for six runs in the first inning and went on to the 11-2 victory.

“It was like something out of a movie, honestly, it worked out perfectly,” said outfielder Chase Raffield. “It worked out the way God wanted it to. He blessed us with a championship, and to have Josiah be a part of it. It was amazing.

“That last game, we were playing to win, but we were playing more to win it for him. I think that was what was on everybody’s mind.”

After the final out, Josiah didn’t hesitate. He knew exactly what to do.

“He went nuts,” Marmol said. “He went crazy. He sprinted toward the field, the guys picked him up and made sure it was a moment he could enjoy. He was very excited, just yelling and running around. The guys were having a good time with him. It definitely was a day he’s not going to forget.”

Marmol credited Josiah for providing an extra incentive for the team, as did his players, who got another lesson in the perspective about life and not just baseball that Marmol values so much.

“It’s not very often that you find someone that can impact your life so much,” said pitcher Trey Nielsen. “Everyone loved that kid. He was part of the family.

“He’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever met. It’s something you don’t anticipate when you hear his story, what he has and what he’s been through. You don’t expect a kid like that to have that knowledge.

“He knows so much about the game, and he loves the game. Honestly if you are going to say one thing about him, it’s that he taught us to love the game through how much he loves it. He has the true passion that everyone speaks of. He found a connection with people through baseball and so did we. He honestly became one of my best friends.”

Added Raffield, “I can’t really tell you who benefitted the most or had the better experience, us or Josiah. For me being a part of it, it was such a blessing to be around him. I gained so much from that kid, seeing his heart and love for the game. He was always happy. That was something we all took away from it. He gave everybody a better attitude.

“God puts things in our hearts and makes everybody different, and I think He made Josiah to love baseball. Josiah touched so many lives … He’s intense. He will pick up on so many things and other guys might not. He’s so intelligent and so clued in to the game. ‘You need to run out that ground ball,’ he would say or he would walk up to you and say ‘suck it up man.’ What do you say to that? ‘You’re right, OK,’ and then keep on going. He made it a really light clubhouse, but kept us focused on what really mattered.”

Marmol hopes he never loses that perspective. He had it in Palm Beach in 2015, when he directed his team to the south division second-half title and a trip to the Florida State League playoffs.

It was a trip he knows was years in the making, and was a result of all the help and advice he received along the way.

“DeJohn helped me with in-game stuff, Shildt also had a huge role in that,” Marmol said. “They poured a lot of knowledge into me about how to prepare for games. They were very intentional in how they went about teaching me.

“When I got the Johnson City job I was so much trying to figure out what I was doing I didn’t have time to think if I was ready or not. I was just trying to learn as I went. I’m pretty comfortable with not knowing things. I’m OK with that. It doesn’t bother me to not have answers to things, so I ask questions. I’m comfortable doing that.

“It was never, ‘Am I ready for this?’ It was, ‘How quickly can I learn?’ I never doubted myself. I’ve always had good people around me who I could ask questions and learn as I went and not be afraid to make a mistake.”

What Marmol, in essence, was learning and then learning to pass along to others was the Cardinal way.

“It comes with a ton of accountability from the very top of the organization to the bottom,” he said. “There is just that sense of accountability. Expectations are high. If I do something that is not going to make us better today they I will be called out on it. That’s how it’s supposed to be. You can’t get by with doing things that don’t work. You are held to a higher standard and everybody understands that.

“That’s the fun part about showing up for work. You’ve got to be ready. Somebody will call you out if you’re not, and that’s a beautiful thing. You can’t just half-ass it.”

Because he is so young, it would be easy for Marmol to wonder about his future, where he might one day be in the game, and how much his mission work outside of baseball can accomplish.

If he has long-term goals, however, Marmol is not willing to share them. It is one of his strengths, the ability to focus on what he can control, that has made him successful in baseball and in life.

He is not willing to gaze very far into the future.

“As I sit here I see that I have a game at 6:35 tonight and I have to figure out a way to get those guys going,” he said of his players. “I get this question (about his future) quite often, and I don’t entertain it. I really don’t. My job is really how do we get these guys going tonight.

“At the end of the season when Gary (LaRocque) pulls me into the office and tells me what my assignment is for next year I will nod my head and go back to work. I have no real goals about five years from now; I just want to do my job well.

“I knew early on that at some point I would like to lead guys from the seat of managing, but as far as an end game, I have no answer. I’ve never thought of it long enough to have an answer.”

Marmol really has the same answer to the question of what he wants to accomplish through his mission work in Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua and other countries he has yet to visit. The Dominican Republic and India are future possibilities. His brother, the missions pastor at a church in South Carolina, was organizing those trips.

“The truth is I can plan all I want and it’s great, but God is going to take it In any direction he wants,” Marmol said. “The truth is it’s already going in that direction. I never saw it going. It’s already bigger than I ever imaged it being.

“A long-term vision? Keep feeding kids, that’s about it.

“It’s going to be cool to see where it leads. I have no idea where it’s going but we are completely open to anything and everything that can help those kids – help them get an education, help them get fed, and see where it goes from there. I am really excited about some of the opportunities.”

The Marmol’s hope one day to start a family of their own, but they will never forget all of the other children who have touched their lives.

“Unless you have the chance to leave here and go to these countries, you don’t even know it exists,” he said. “You come back and figure out how can we change that? You think if it is happening all over the world, what a difference that is going to make. It makes a huge difference.

“When you sit with a little girl who is crying because when it rains it just pours on her bed and you’ve just built the family a house, that’s neat. It’s not going to rain on her anymore. You see kids who don’t have food and for the next six months they are eating three meals a day, you know you did something.

“Whether it’s for a village of 20 kids or 200 kids, it’s irrelevant. Twenty kids are now eating, or 200 kids are now eating. That’s the way I look at it.”