As if having a Major League Baseball experienced coaching staff weren’t enough, the near 30 student-athletes on the College of Staten Island men’s baseball squad got an added dose of MLB-induced tutelage these past weeks, when three Major Leaguers practiced side-by-side with the Dolphins to kick off winter training at the Sports & Recreation Center. Staten Island native and San Diego Padres hurler Jason Marquis, going into his 13th MLB season, headlined the visit, and was joined by fellow Islanders, Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Bobby Lanigan and Atlanta Braves’ star pitcher Anthony Varvaro.
The trio used their time at CSI to prepare for their own spring training at their respective ball clubs this week, while for the Dolphins’ players and coaches, the week-long sessions proved invaluable and awe-inspiring.
“As amazing and as down-to-Earth as these guys are, they really are larger than life for our kids, and it’s amazing how much we can take in over the weeks they were here,” said CSI Head Coach Michael Mauro, who negotiates the visit each year in January-February. “It truly is an educational experience for our guys, and as much as we look forward to it, our guys work really hard training and take this time to really develop.”
Mauro knows that working side-by-side with major leaguers is something few NCAA Division III student-athletes get a chance to do. He uses the time not only as a recruiting tool for future CSI ball players, but also to fortify friendships and build the bridges between these stars and their local community.
“It’s a great marriage. For Jason, Bobby and Anthony, it’s a chance to get their arms and legs going before they go through their own grind in their respective cities, and they get the chance to work with our kids in their own backyard in the process,” he said. “We share a lot of laughs and good times and our kids get a true sense of the dedication it takes to make it to the big leagues. These guys do more for us in a week than we can do in months. Even as coaches, it really helps us focus and appreciate the game.”
One of the biggest Staten Island sports names in history, Marquis has had a storied and sensational career, collecting over 1,000 strikeouts and 112 career wins with a 4.70 lifetime ERA in the majors. Marquis began using the CSI facility early in his career in preparation for his own spring training, and has parlayed that time into working with the CSI contingent. That’s music to the ears of the Dolphins players, especially their pitchers.
“Many people would love a chance to meet a Major League Baseball player, but few get to say they got to meet and work out with three of them,” said Richie Anderson, CSI senior and top returning pitcher in 2013. “The few pointers I got with my mechanics was special. They taught us to have fun and stay focused on our goals, and it was a great experience.”
Lanigan, 25, spent a majority of the 2012 season with the Rochester Red wings, part of the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate, compiling a 6-2 record with a 4.69 ERA. He was selected by the Twins’ in the third round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of Adelphi University.
“Bobby is only a few years older than some of our players, and it was really important for our guys to see how far a local kid can go that many of them know and have seen play, and the level of competitiveness and dedication that takes,” said Mauro.
CSI skipper Michael Mauro and Atlanta Braves star Anthony Varvaro
Varvaro, 28, is a Curtis High School graduate and made his MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2010, spending the last two years with the Atlanta Braves. In limited duty, he posted a 1-1 record with the Braves in relief last season, with a 5.40 ERA, striking out 21 batters in just over 16 innings pitched. Of the three pros, Varvaro was perhaps the most involved, joining the Dolphins for their very first practice and did not miss a single one, working side-by-side with the Dolphins every step of the way through conditioning and live drills.
“As a catcher, being able to work with these guys was unbelievable,” said senior Francis Torres. “I was there catching these guys like some of the major league players are doing in my place, except instead of them treating it like a bullpen session, they were giving me tips on how to better my game. It’s experience that you can’t equal to anything else.”
For Torres and many of his teammates, the chance to work with the star quality at practice does more for the Dolphins’ mental game than anything else.
“You see the amount of work they put in and to do it right there with them helps prepare you for what lies ahead,” he said. “It makes us believe that if we can do what they are doing that we can be prepared for anything. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘if you want to know the road ahead, ask someone who is coming back.’ Having those gentlemen here really gave us that sort of preparation. I know its molded how me and my teammates are going to approach the game.”
With almost a month of excellent training and focus in the books, the Dolphins are now turning the page and getting set for live game experience. The team is hoping to move practices outdoors in the coming weeks, in time for their own Spring Training competitive trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in early March.