The Seattle Mariners have shown an affinity under Tom McNamara for drafting the type of player labeled as a "baseball rat". Several of the club's draft picks in the past three seasons have fit that mold, but perhaps none more than Jack Marder. A California kid, Marder has been passed over by college programs and scouts all of his life, so when the Mariners finally selected him in the 16th round of the 2011 draft, it wasn't a surprise to him that he went so late. It was just another example of teams not knowing the whole Jack Marder.
Not short on confidence or words, Jack recently took the time to talk with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about that history, about his influences as a player, and about his love for and dedication to the game of baseball.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, Jack.
Jack Marder: No problem, Rick.
SC: You were a 16th round pick by the Mariners, which followed being passed over by some colleges in the past and told by scouts that you were "too small", "too old" or not "toolsy" enough despite being a 4-year varsity player in high school. How do you continue to prove all of the doubters wrong?
JM: Honestly, for me, I don't see it like that. Whenever an underdog gets an upset win in sports you hear them say, "No one believed in us, but we believed in ourselves", but I don't necessarily feel like that. Ever player has their doubters, but I have my family and my core group of friends and I have great supporters and that's all I need. I don't care what the detractors think. I'll listen to it sometimes if I think that it will help motivate me, but I never let it get me down. I just love baseball more than anything else in the world -- it's not about proving people wrong for me, it's about playing this game that I love for me. I go out, take care of my business, listen to the people that I trust and give it my all.
SC: Tying into that a little, I've seen some interviews in the past in which you stated that you draw a bit of inspiration from smallish big leaguers like Dustin Pedroia and Jack Wilson. Talk about the stigma of the small ballplayer.
JM: Definitely. Growing up one of my favorite players was Brett Butler. Sometimes people don't remember who he is, but growing up in California and watching him with the Dodgers I got attached to him. I'm not sure what it was exactly, just that he was smaller and I identified with that or just the way he was scrapping out hits because that's the way that I always was. So yes, guys like Butler or Wilson, Craig Biggio and Pedroia, I know that those guys went through a lot of the same things that I'm going through so I appreciate them. They weren't blessed with the size that scouts look for, but I think that the thing they all were blessed with -- and a thing that I think a lot of scouts don't look at enough, I think this should be another tool they look it -- is the size of their heart. I think it is as big of a factor, if not bigger, than the tools they do look at. I can go against more talented players and win because of heart. Find a way to scrap out a hit, move a runner up, grab an extra base or whatever--find a way to beat you, and that's how I play and that's because of heart. Craig Biggio -- who also started out as a catcher -- did that and scrapped his way right into the Hall of Fame. I pattern a lot of my game after him. He was another one of my favorite players growing up and he turned me onto pine tar when I was like 10-years-old, too. So I'll be one of those guys that will just find any possible way to beat you like those guys.
SC: Who is your biggest inspiration or influence as a ballplayer?
JM: I've had so many people that I train with or workout with, but the constant is my parents. They are always the two that ask me the tough questions and give me the inspiration and motivation to keep pushing even when I have a setback or get upset about something.
SC: Tying into the players you followed, it really seems like you're an "all-out effort" kind of player. Describe your approach to the game for me.
JM: Maybe this isn't a good thing, but I almost feel like I have to give it absolutely everything that I've got every single time. Because there definitely are a lot of guys that are more talented or more physically gifted than I am, but the way that I help separate myself from others is playing like my hair is on fire all the time. Until I was drafted I was always thinking, "You never know who is watching," so just in case a Jack Zduriencik or anyone like that was in the stands, seeing me for the first time, I didn't want to give the wrong impression. And even now, you never know who is watching you and I don't want to ever get the label that I dog it. Ever. So I go all out all the time. I want to be the poster child of the "baseball rat" label. And if I'm going to play like that, then I'm going to practice like that, too.
SC: I guess this is part of that approach, but I've seen a lot of video on you and you always, always sprint to first base. Be it on a HBP, a walk or whatever. Who taught you that?
JM: You know, I'm not sure where that started, exactly, but I just am in the habit of it now. I wouldn't call it a full-out sprint, but I do run hard. Even when I hit a home run, I don't take my time like a lot of guys do. I'm sure some people see me do that and are like, "who's this kid," but that's just the way that I do it. I play like I have a little chip on my shoulder so I just take the approach to every aspect of the game. Some people don't like it and some people may think that it isn't necessary -- like if I dive for a ball in the hole that they don't think I can get to -- but I don't care what people think, that is the way that I play ball. And I can guarantee you this; Everyone that ever sees me will come away saying, "that kid plays hard". So I think that's the way I play ball, and I leave the field knowing that I gave my all every single game.
SC: How do you balance that? You're a naturally aggressive personality it seems. So how do you balance that part of your human nature with trying to be selective at the plate?
JM: I don't know that I do or that I need to, really. I wouldn't call myself your typical "guess hitter", but I'm a highly educated guess hitter I think. I do a lot of my own homework, I do a lot of studying pitchers during the game, every single warm-up pitch, when I'm on deck, when I'm in the dugout, so when it's my turn to hit I feel that I know what I'm looking for and have a sense for when I'll get it. When I go up to the plate there is a certain pitch that I am looking for in a certain area, and if I get that pitch, I'm swinging. If it's not, then I'll take. I'm definitely an aggressive hitter and the coaches have talked to me about not getting overconfident, but I'm always going to be that guy that swings if the pitch is in my zone, regardless if the guy on the hill is throwing 100 miles an hour.
SC: You are obviously very in-tuned with the mental part of the game, and talking about Brett Butler and other guys you followed, are you also a student on baseball history?
JM: Sort of. I'm not a guy that knows all of the stats in history or things like that, but more in terms of how people play or what happened in certain games. I'm not the guy that's going to say, "Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941," but I'm more in tuned with their approaches. I know that Ted Williams was looking for a certain pitch in a certain spot in 2-1 counts and things of that nature.
SC: Catching is a very cerebral position. How much have you caught during your baseball career before your sophomore season at Oregon?
JM: I caught probably about 10 games in high school. Didn't really know what I was doing, just went out there and caught the ball. Sort of did what I thought I needed to do based off of watching how Yadier Molina did it on TV.
SC: You aren't the biggest guy and you're catching now for the Mariners, but the 34 starts behind the plate your sophomore year at Oregon – how did that come about?
JM: I got after it a bit in the offseason after my freshman year then (Oregon Head) Coach (George) Horton came to me before my sophomore year and said, "we have our third baseman, we have our shortstop and we have our second baseman so what do you think about catching?" He told me that was going to be my best chance to get on the field and play and thought it would be my best spot to get drafted, too, so I was all for it. Really at that point he could have said we need you to be a left-handed pitcher and I would have said, "let's do this", because I just wanted to play so bad. But we talked about my personality and we thought that I'd really fit and they (the Oregon coaching staff) all thought that I could do it, so I jumped all in and gave it everything that I've got. I think my personality and my instincts took over and I've picked a lot of things up over the past year from the different coaches and from watching different guys and now I feel that if you watch me catch that you would feel that catching is my natural position.
SC: Despite having really good bat speed and other good tools, you didn't have the most impressive hitting stats in college for the Ducks, but you also battled the injury bug quite a bit, do you think any of those injuries will be nagging?
JM: No. Just mostly bangs and bruises, really. Most of my injuries have all been just because of the way that I play. If you're going play full-bore, 100% out all the time, you're going to get banged up more than the next guy. But in terms of how I prepare, too, I try and train myself to be ready for those bangs and bruises. Just making sure that my body is always in shape and that I'm healthy. I want to play the way that I do all the time. I don't want to play at 80% -- which I actually did a little bit at Oregon, which was funky for me -- so I train myself expecting those little injuries. I feel like because of my training, my recovery tool and my mental approach that I can go 0-10 or 0-20, or get banged up, maybe break my pinky or something, and work through it whereas another guy that isn't used to it could let it get to him mentally or be out for a while with an injury like that.
SC: Kind of related to the injury bit, you seem to have a Craig Biggio-esque affinity for getting hit. Are you just "lucky" or is that a part of your game that you work on? Do you set up close to the plate in your stance?
JM: Honestly, a lot of it was the way that we played at Oregon, and I hope that doesn't sound bad. But if a pitch is coming at you, we just were coached not to get out of the way. And you know, when I wasn't hitting the ball well, getting on base any way that I could help the team. Getting hit by pitch in the right location -- like where you get hit and not get hurt -- getting hit in the right situation or things like that, I've kind of mastered that. I've developed an approach that, if the ball is coming in at me, I'm going to wear it for the team. I'm not afraid of getting hit.
SC: Being from California, how great was it for you to be able to make your pro debut for High Desert last season?
JM: That was really sweet. I signed straight out of the Cape Cod League and the Mariners told me I was going to go to High Desert and I was like, "Sounds good." I didn't know that High Desert was High-A or anything, I just knew it was close by. But when I got there, I had one of my high school coaches there, I had my parents there, my grandparents, friends. It was great. My pro debut was great because of that. A lot of kids I'm sure are scared, but I had a full-house there to watch me and I was really excited. I launched a ball foul on the first pitch I saw, ended up getting a couple of knocks, it was a great day. But being down in Southern California in High Desert, so close to home, it was great.
SC: After the season you went to Arizona for the Mariners' Instructional League. How was that experience for you this past year, and what was your primary focus?
JM: It was catching drills and catching style. There are so many styles of catching, and the way that I did things at Oregon was not the way that they wanted me to do it here. Not the "Mariner Way". They wanted me to change a few things and learn things the way they do things here. Just fine tuning the skills and doing it every day the way that the club wants me to do it from now through the big leagues. Jose Moreno was one of my coaches there and he was my coach in High Desert, too.
SC: Do you set goals for yourself, day-to-day, year-to-year?
JM: Yes. I set goals for myself each and every day. One is that I need to leave the field knowing that I accomplished the one specific goal that I set up for that day. Be it, I want to hit every ball to right field that day, or block every ball in the dirt or whatever. Then I do weekly goals, like being able to completely get my signs down by the end of a certain week. But I set goals for myself for each year and even two years out. I am a big believer in setting the bar high and giving yourself goals to aim for.
SC: Given your Northwest ties, did you follow the Mariners as a fan at all prior to being drafted?
JM: Never. I was always a Dodgers fan growing up. But I watched Bret Boone, Ichiro -- I watched every team play, but I was primarily a Dodgers fan. Obviously I'm a Mariners fan now, but that will be true with whatever organization I'm in at the time.
SC: Are you only doing catching drills now or are you still taking infield?
JM: I'm still asking (the coaches) where they want me every day, but mainly I'm only doing catching stuff. I'm getting infield work in on my own after practice right now just because I feel that I need to keep doing that work.
SC: Well thank you again for talking with me today and good luck in 2012 and beyond, Jack. Keep outworking everybody.
JM: Alright, I appreciate it.