Starting Bulldog backstop Elih Marrero has emerged as a spark plug for the Bulldog offense and a reliable receiver behind the plate for the Maroon and White defense. A pair of injuries to upperclassmen catchers Josh Lovelady, who was lost for the season, and junior transfer Jack Kruger, forced Marrero into early action.
The Miami, Florida native has made the most of his opportunities and worked hard to make Bulldog baseball better.
"My expectation coming into the season was to do whatever I needed to do to help the team win," Marrero said. "It really hurts to see Lovelady go down like that and to see Jack be hurt. They are both really amazing people and they're both great players."
While Lovelady is no longer available to play this season due to an ACL tear on a freak injury, Marrero reports that the personable senior has served as a mentor of sorts and has remained engaged with the Bulldog baseball team.
"Even though he is hurt, he is still helping me," Marrero said of Lovelady. "He is still guiding me. He's always taking notes and just trying to help me and the team. It really helps, because he is been in the program for a while, so he knows what it's like.
"He always told me that it's a grind everyday and that I need to come in ready to work hard every single day. He is always telling me things I can do to help our pitchers. There's just something new I can do everyday to help our pitchers and help our team."
Marrero was a confident prep star and believed that he was ready for the next level. Despite his desire to play early, the personable catcher arrived in Starkville with a team first attitude.
"I was ready to do whatever Coach needed to help the team win," Marrero said. "We work hard as a group of guys everyday and everybody wants to play. At the same time, you came to Mississippi State to win, so you may not play as much as you're used to. We're all about the team here. We're trying to win a National Championship here at Mississippi State and that is always going to be our goal."
Bulldog fans have always taken a lot of pride in their baseball program as evidenced by the national on campus attendance records the Bulldogs' hold. Immortalized in various locations around Dudy Noble are the relics of Bulldog baseball lore.
While Marrero is eager to see his name attached to some new heights in Diamond Dawg baseball, the switch hitting backstop understands grand achievement comes as the result of off season labor.
"I won't stand here and say luck has anything to do with it," Marrero said. "There is a lot of hard work in the fall and preparation that goes into all of this. It comes from all of the running we do and all of the hard lifting we do. All of the hard times then are becoming the good times now. It's all coming down to those good moments now and we just want to see what we can do better. As a group of guys, we're playing good together."
Starkville is a long way from Marrero's home of Miami, Florida, but coming from a baseball family, the diamond is home no matter where the umpire yells "Play ball". The son of former big leaguer Eli Marrero, Elih comes by his baseball talent honestly.
Before the younger Marrero made his Earthly debut, his mother, Marisol, elected to honor his father with the naming rights. At the same time, Mother Marrero wanted her son to have a name all of his own.
"It was my mom's idea to add an H to end of my name, so that it would be something a little different," Marrero said. "She wanted me to have my own name and she didn't want me to be a junior. It's kind of my own thing. I really appreciate that she did that. It's a unique situation."
Growing up the son of a Major Leaguer is not always easy. Accepting that Dad is going to be on the road a lot is one thing, but the expectations visited on the sons of pro ball players can often be unfair. Marrero reports that he brushed off any anxiety about following in his father's talented footsteps.
"There is really no pressure with any of that as far as I am concerned," Marrero said. "I am just trying to have my own career and I am not trying to live up to his. He had his career and he tells me that all of the time. I am just here to play baseball and make my own name."
A couple of times each week, Marrero will speak with his father, now a minor league manager, about life and times as a college baseball player. The pair spends some time breaking down the game and assessing the young Marrero's progress.
"He watches the game everyday," Marrero said. "If he's in the dugout, he's listening to the game. He's really into it a lot. It helps me some times too. We talk about the games and about certain situations with hitting. If he saw something in my catching, he will let me know and I will fix it."
Last weekend in Baton Rouge, Marrero gunned down LSU lead off hitter Antoine Duplantis in the first inning to quell a Tiger uprising. With the pitch in the dirt and an LSU hitter falling into his path, Marrero remained focused and fired a strike to second.
Mississippi State won the contest 2-1 and ultimately the series. That first inning play proved to be monumental in the final tally.
"I have to give a lot of credit to Austin Sexton there," Marrero said. "He controlled the running game and did his job to keep guys from stealing a bag. He kept him close, so he didn't get a big lead. I always know that hitters are going to do anything to distract you, so I just try to stay in my line, stay focused on my goal and throw him out."
With the Bulldog roster down a couple of full time catchers, Marrero has pretty much become the every day receiver for Mississippi State. Eager to help his team in every way, the well spoken freshman is not asking for any days off despite having 30 college starts under his belt.
"This is probably the most games that I have ever caught in row," Marrero said. "I like it. I feel like it's getting me ready for what I might be doing in the future maybe in pro ball. I like it, you know. I like playing everyday. I know it's a grind, but I love it. I love the grind.
"It's like my dad always said, it's not easy to do this job, but I love my job. My job is the best job on the field."
Catching everyday in either games or practices, Marrero has had the chance to really fine tune his craft. The repetition and college coaching has helped Marrero make some real strides as a baseball player.
"I'm working on it every day," Marrero said. "I thought I was good when I got here, but thanks to Coach (Will) Coggin, Jack (Kruger) and Josh (Lovelady) I feel like I'm getting better. We work hard every single day. We work hard in practice and we work before the game to be sure that we are mentally ready. We really work hard at the little things. There is something we can do every day to be better."
Marrero had to walk through the valley before he could run the mountain. Like all freshmen, no matter how talented, Marrero had some mistakes early on. Now better because of those lessons learned, the Bulldogs are enjoying the play of a rising star.
"I really appreciate coach for staying in there and grinding it out with me," Marrero said. "There have been times when I have struggled, but coach has stuck with me. It's really helped me get better and become more confident in what I am doing."
As a hitter, Marrero has seen some ups and downs as he has adjusted to facing SEC pitching. Heading to the plate with an approach of simply hitting the ball where it is rather than trying to do too much has aided in his maturation as an offensive player.
"I have never really been a power guy in my entire life," Marrero said with a smile. "I know that I am a doubles and singles guy. I hate striking out, so I am always trying to put the ball in play. My approach is to always have a smooth swing and put the ball in play."
Mississippi State fans have an eye on the future as well as the present when they think about Marrero and his freshman classmates Luke Alexander, Cole Gordon, Jake Mangum and Hunter Stovall among others. While fans have that luxury, Marrero reports that he and his teammates are focused on the here and now.
"The future really sounds great, but the only goal we are focused on right now is this year," Marrero explained. "This year is the most important year. Next year will come and that will be the important year when it gets here.
"We have a good group of young guys, but we have some older guys who are focused on winning now. They are helping us become future leaders and we're all working hard for this year. That's the most important thing right now."
Fans who visit Dudy Noble field enjoy seeing Marrero come to the plate in more ways than one. When Marrero's walk up music sounds over the PA, freshman first batter Cole Gordon goes nuts in the Bulldog dugout.
Marrero reports that he has no issues with sharing the spotlight with his teammate when the song "Get Down" by Hard Rock Sofa begins to play.
"That's been my song since high school," Marrero said. "One of my friends showed it to me and I just fell in love with it. I think it brings out my personality. "I have my own little routine and when the song drops, I just feel like it gets me ready go mentally.
"Cole loves it and the crowd loves it. They seem to love his dance moves too. I feel like it's good for Mississippi State, the team and the crowd. I feel like it supplies a little energy. I appreciate that."
With some big moments left to play for, Marrero and his teammates have some work left to do. The second half of the SEC slate has begun and the pressure of the post season looms. Marrero admits that major college baseball has presented some unique challenges and a few surprises.
"You know, coming in here, I didn't think it would be like this," Marrero said. "My eyes have really been opened, because it's really different. This is Mississippi State baseball and this is really what it's like to play here.
"The fans here are always into it. When we had those big crowds during Super Bulldog Weekend, it was loud. After we got home from winning the series at Florida, we had fans here waiting for us. It just shows you how the people are around here are just great and amazing people. All of this has shown me that coach was right when he was recruiting me."