By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – When Oli Marmol walked into the manager’s office off the Cardinals’ clubhouse at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium this week, he knew a lot has changed since the last time he sat in the chair behind the desk.
That was six years ago, in 2016, when Marmol was finishing his second season as the manager of the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals.
The desk is the same. The chair is the same. But the level of responsibility that Marmol now possesses as the manager of the major-league Cardinals is significantly different.
“I don’t take this day lightly at all,” Marmol said on Friday following a press conference at the stadium with John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, and Cardinals chairman Oli Marmol.
It was his first in-person press conference since being named manager of the Cardinals on Oct. 25, replacing Mike Shildt, who was fired 11 days earlier.
“To be able to sit in that seat and know that the organization has chosen you to lead this group of men for the next few years, it’s an honor and a privilege, it really is. It’s a seat that a lot of people would like to sit in,” Marmol said.
“The ability to do that, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Some of Marmol’s players began arriving at the Cardinals complex on Friday, with Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill among the early arrivals. The team has a mandatory reporting date of Sunday with the first workout set for Monday.
Mozeliak said the team should not have any visa issues and the only reason why a player might not arrive on time would be a travel issue.
Marmol has spent the last five years as a coach on the major-league staff, but those responsibilities differ greatly from those of being the manager. At 35, he is the youngest manager in the major leagues.
It’s a challenge he’s ready to accept.
“I’m going to carry myself the way I usually have and earn respect of everybody in that clubhouse and outside of that clubhouse,” he said. “
Marmol had to endure the 99-day lockout without being able to talk to his players, which he said was the hardest part of the work stoppage – along with not knowing when it was going to end.
He didn’t have the chance, for example, to find out what they were doing.
“Being on the same page about how they were coming into spring training would allow for better planning for day one,” he said. “You would have a good idea of where everybody is. That’s the biggest difference.
“A big part of this job is just overall trust, so the ability to do that face to face always plays better.”
That line of communication opened up on Thursday night, and Marmol began trying to get in contact with as many of those players as he could reach.
Mozeliak said when he saw Marmol on Thursday night, after the lockout ended, “He looked like a different guy … when I looked at him it was on. He knows it’s go time now. There’s no waiting for that next.
“Wheels are turning, things are going. I’m excited for him to have that first staff meeting, to have that first workout on Monday and have our first game on the 18th.”
Marmol arrived in Jupiter a few days ago, deciding to bring his family here when the minor-league camp opened so he could be here when the lockout ended.
During the lockout, Marmol said he tried to use the time as wisely as possible.
“When I think through this, it’s a matter of if we were the only club going through this that would be one thing, but every club is in the same boat,” he said. “We took advantage of those three months and did as much as we could for preparation for Monday as a staff.
“We took the opportunity for some growth as staff individually and as a department and took some feedback that I think will be beneficial to what we see here in the next couple months.”
Will he be nervous before the first clubhouse meeting, before the first workout? Will he have trouble sleeping Sunday night?
“I’m usually a pretty decent sleeper,” he said. “Listen, this is a great opportunity to lead an organization and have fun while doing it. It’s something I’m prepared to do, and prepared to do well.
“I have a staff that I trust and depend on. We have players that are committed and convicted about what this process looks like. I can sleep just fine at night knowing those things.”
The Cardinals gave Marmol another pitcher to work with on Friday signing veteran right-hander Drew VerHagen to a two-year contract. VerHagen, 31, spent the last two years pitching in Japan after spending parts of the previous six seasons with the Tigers.
“We’ve had a lot of success bringing players back over from Korea and Japan,” Mozeliak said. “He’s someone that fit the profile we were looking for. We understand that we are going to be looking for innings. We know he can go multiple innings or end up in the bullpen. There was a lot we liked about him.”
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