While knowing that a lot of things in life are not guaranteed, James Marvel enjoys having a sense of control every time he steps on a baseball field.
“As a pitcher, you have control of the ball. Nothing starts until you are ready,” explained Marvel. “I rely on the eight guys behind me, but I am in charge of every single pitch. I’m matched up in a one-on-on battle with the hitter and the question is, am I going to get him out?”
After countless hours of hard work, the Cheshire native lived out a dream with the Pittsburgh Pirates in September. Following his call up from the minor leagues, Marvel pitched in his first three Major League Baseball games against the St. Louis Cardinals (Sept. 8), Chicago Cubs (Sept. 14), and Milwaukee Brewers (Sept. 21).
“It has been an amazing year, but I wouldn’t be where I am without wanting to keep getting better and finish the season strong,” said Marvel.
Throughout his life, Marvel has used athletics to form relationships with people. While he was born in San Francisco, he moved often as a child due to his dad’s work and thus had the chance to play with teams in California, Washington, and Connecticut.
In the latter part of 1999, he came to Cheshire at age 6 and stayed in town for six years.
“It was fantastic,” reflected Marvel, whose family lived on Oregon Road. “Looking back on my time there, it was a great place to grow up. My favorite times were spent in the neighborhood playing football or hoops with the guys.”
During the summer, he recalls hanging out at the Farms Country Club and stopping by Sweet Claude’s Ice Cream on Friday nights.
“Those places will always have a soft spot in my heart,” Marvel said.
For athletics, he enjoyed playing ice hockey for the Wallingford Hawks and developing his baseball skills with the Cheshire Reds.
“Playing a lot of sports helped me develop as an athlete,” recalled Marvel.
As a pitcher and shortstop, he helped the 8-U Reds reach the 2002 American Amateur Baseball Congress World Series in McDonough, Georgia. Tom Allard, who coached Marvel, remembers how he stood out on a talented team.
“I had three elite guys on that team and he was one of them,” stated Allard. “James was a very coachable and cerebral player. He was talented at a young age and you could see that he had the will to keep working at his craft.”
Marvel envisioned playing with his friends in high school but in 2005, his parents informed him that his family would be moving back to California.
“It was tough initially,” said Marvel. “In the fall of sixth grade, my parents asked me if I wanted to leave right away or wait until the summer. I thought it was better to make the move at the start of the school year and make new friends.”
In heading out west, Marvel developed into a standout baseball and football player at Campolindo High School in Moraga, California. He also enjoyed playing tennis and golf.
“I would have loved to play hockey, but I would have had to travel to LA,” explained Marvel.
As a Campolindo baseball captain in his senior year, he was named among 10 finalists for ESPN High School Mr. Baseball Player of the Year.
In 2012, the Minnesota Twins chose him in the 37th Round of the MLB Draft, but Marvel decided to instead play baseball and study at Duke University in North Carolina.
“I got recruited to Duke as a two-way player, but due to injuries in college, I didn’t get any official at bats (as a hitter),” recalled Marvel.
In 2015, he was selected by the Pirates in the 36th round (1,087 overall pick) of the MLB Draft.
“It was a dream come true,” recalled Marvel. “I was coming off elbow injury at that time.”
He feels fortunate to have been drafted by a franchise that allowed him to develop as a player and person. Marvel finished rehabbing his shoulder in 2015 and then began a three-year minor league career in which he posted a 40-26 career
“It is a long journey starting at the lowest level,” explained Marvel. “It is small incremental growth that gets you to the big leagues. I embraced adversity as a chance to grow.”
In a breakthrough this year, Marvel earned a 16-5 combined record for the Altoona Curve (AA level) and Indianapolis Indians (AAA). With the Indians, he went 7-0 with a 2.67 earned run average.
“If you can come to the yard every single day and find one thing to get better at, it helps in your journey,” explained Marvel.
While in Washington D.C. earlier this month, the Pirates called to tell Marvel that he would be joining their MLB roster.
“It was a special moment. I had just pitched our last game of the AAA season,” reflected Marvel. “I got to share the news with my girlfriend, parents, and friends.”
When the Pirates informed him that he would make his pitching debut against the St. Louis Cardinals on the road, his parents and 40 other family members/friends got tickets for the game on Sept. 8.
“I get good nerves every time before I pitch,” stated Marvel. “I think that shows that it matters to me. I have a lot of responsibility to myself and this (Pirates) organization.”
Pittsburgh fell 2-0 to St. Louis in his first start, but Marvel gave up only four hits, two walks, and two runs in five innings. He thought that he was able to use all of his pitches effectively, but also credited St. Louis for making him work on the mound.
“I gave up a run in both of my last two innings,” said Marvel, who had two strikeouts in his debut. “Jack Flaherty (of St. Louis) is one of the top pitchers in the game right now and he worked very well that day.”
Marvel throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball, as well as a change-up and curveball.
“I think that I can command all of my pitches inside and out of the zone,” explained Marvel. “I pride myself on my preparation inbetween outings.”
Though he didn’t make the trip to St. Louis for Marvel’s debut, Allard reached out to him via text messages from Cheshire.
“I’ve coached a lot of kids over the years and seen them play in college, but this is the first time that I’ve had a player make the big leagues,” said Allard. “It is pretty cool.”
In 12.1 innings, Marvel posted an 0-3 record with seven strikeouts. While taking his career one day at a time, he dreams of one day helping the Pirates win the World Series.
“We have a great group of guys working for the same thing,” said Marvel. “We also take our role in the community very seriously. We are incredibly blessed as professional baseball players to do what we do.”