By Rob Rains
The moment happened more than two decades ago, when Oliver Marmol was barely a teenager. To his oldest brother, however, it provided a glimpse into the future that he has never forgotten.
Will Marmol, the oldest of the four Marmol boys, was coaching Oli’s Little League team in Orlando. They were playing for a spot in a championship game, needing a key out, and Will brought Oli in to pitch.
“He was my go-to guy because I knew his skill set,” Will recalled. “Everybody looked at me like I was crazy because the guy coming up to bat was the leading hitter in the league. I told Oli, ‘Just get this one out and we are going to win.’”
Will told Oli he would call the pitch, and on the first pitch, the hitter drove the ball out of the park – but foul. The kid stared the ball down, then stared at Oli on the mound.
“I was like, ‘That could have gone really bad,’” Will said. “Oliver looked at me and goes, ‘I got it.’ He waved me off. I looked at him and said, ‘Go ahead.’ I knew he had a plan. He struck the kid out on two pitches.
“The best part of that moment was that as soon as he threw the last pitch, a nasty curveball, he started walking off the mound before the umpire called it a strike. He didn’t even look toward the plate once he released the pitch. He simply stared at me in the dugout.
“He came in the dugout and told me, ‘I know what I am doing.’ I just laughed. It showed me he was willing to be accountable for his choices. He wanted the responsibility and had the ability to carry it.”
On Thursday, Oli Marmol officially assumes the responsibility of being the Cardinals manager as they open the regular season against the Pirates at Busch Stadium. It’s a moment, all of his brothers say, he has been preparing for his entire life.
“I truly believe – no I know – he’s ready for this stage,” Erik Marmol said.
At 35, Oli Marmol is the youngest manager in the major leagues. Being the youngest at anything has never been an issue for him – in large part because of all the time he spent around his three brothers growing up.
“We’ve been close since the very beginning,” Oli said. “They were all three constantly looking out for me, looking out for each other.”
Will, now 45, was nine years old when Oli was born. Ronny is a year younger, now 44, Erik was the closest to Oli in age and is now 41.
“Oli just hung out with all of us,” Ronny said. “We wanted him to be there and be a part of who we were hanging around with. He was never a bother.
“Being the youngest he got to see everybody else mess up. He also got to learn from everybody else. He was a sponge. He had kind of a laid-back personality. I was the loud one, Erik was the crazy one and Will was the thinker. In that laid-back personality, Oli was always very observant. He would listen, take in what was around him very well. Then he would process what to do with that.
“He’s a great listener. That allows him to think before he speaks. Then what does come out of his mouth is something that has been processed and thought through very carefully.”
Added Erik, “Everything we did he was always there. He was attached to my hip … He was 9, doing stuff 13-year-olds were doing. He always rose to the occasion of having pressure by hanging with the older kids. We never left him behind.”
Those observations provided life lessons, many of which Oli applied as he rose through the Cardinals’ minor-league system as a manager before joining the major-league coaching staff in 2017.
Oli always viewed his job, whether he was in State College, Pa., or Palm Beach, as a position where he was there to help others – help his players develop on the field and learn how to get the most out of their ability, but also to become better people at the same time. He knows that philosophy came from watching his brothers.
“They all are different in their own ways, but they all care about others,” Oli said. “All of them in their own ways put others before themselves. That’s something I’ve definitely taken to heart. I’ve seen them model it.”
All three of Oli’s brothers are, in at least one way, like him. All have gone into jobs where their primary task is to help and serve others. Ronny and Will are pastors; Erik is a police officer.
“We tell each other, the four boys, here’s the platform God has given us to help people,” Ronny said. “Oli’s platform is baseball. That’s his heart. A lot of people may have that desire to help people, but when you have the gift of it, it kind of takes it to another level. He has the gift of it. He has the gift of saying, ‘I care for this person more than as a baseball player.’ He has his priorities straight.”
Oli knows that comes from his parents as well as his brothers. It also comes from his Christian faith. Ronny was the first of the boys to accept Christ into his life, doing so when he was working at the College of Charleston, where he had been a promising baseball player before a shoulder injury ended his career. Ronny got into the ministry after first working at the school and then in the banking business.
He has been one of the pastors at Hope Point Church in Spartanburg, S.C., for the last seven years.
Will was a bartender in Orlando and in West Virginia before he joined Ronny as a minister. He is the family pastor at Genesis Church in Orlando, where he has worked for five years, after serving at another church for five years.
Erik was in the mortgage business in Florida, moved to Texas to get married, then when the housing market collapsed in 2008-2009 he followed his passion and became a police officer. He has been on the force in Rosenberg, Texas, outside of Houston, for 11 years and is now a patrol sergeant and a member of the SWAT team.
“All the boys are doing what they’ve been called to do,” Will said. “From a big brother perspective, it’s been pretty amazing.”
It was Will who provided one of the greatest lessons in Oli’s life, even though he did not remember the night it happened and had to be told about it later.
“I came home one night, and was not in my best condition,” Will said. “Oliver was sitting outside of our parents’ front door talking with Ronny. I was trying to make my way into our house and Ronny turned to Oliver and said, ‘Look at your brother. You want to turn out like that?’ Oliver said no.
“God used me as an illustration for him not to become his brother but become his own person. From that day he genuinely connected with me a little differently … I didn’t see them (Ronny and Oli) sharing their testimony. Ronny told me years later. I had no clue.
“It was a pivotal moment in Oli’s life. You never know who’s watching. You’ve got to always lead by example.”
Said Ronny, “It’s part of all of our testimony. What God has done in our family, little by little. They influenced all of us.”
The brothers can all share stories that speak to the closeness of the family, how one went out of his way to help another.
“One of the biggest things they taught me was to take care of the people you love,” Oli said. “We’re all really close, and have been close since the very beginning. There’s just a mentality of taking care of family at all costs. That’s probably the thing that sticks out the most.”
Will remembers when he was in Miami, heading out of the country, and realized he had left his passport at home in Orlando, 4 ½ hours away. With no time to have it shipped to him, he called and asked Oli – too young to drive – if he would get on a bus and bring it to him.
“He grabbed my passport, jumped on a bus and got it to me,” Will said. “He did it without thinking. He made it happen. My friends said, ‘Your little brother did that? How?’ I said, ‘because it’s Oli.’”
One of the stories Erik likes to tell is about the time he was in Orlando, with a new baby just a few months old, and he got a phone call from Oli.
“He wasn’t always the most organized guy then like he is now,” Erik said. “It was about 9:30 at night and he called me from St. Petersburg. He was in high school. He said, ‘Bro, I left my uniform. I think it’s in my bag with my cleats.’ It was different with him; I would never get mad.
“I told my wife, ‘We’ve got to go see Oli.’ She said, ‘It’s 10 o’clock at night.’ We loaded up the baby and took the 2-hour trip and took him his uniform. We spent the night in a hotel and watched his game the next morning, then drove back.
“It was one of many, ‘Erik, I forget … fill in the blank.’ We knew he had such a special talent that we all supported him. If that was the bit I could do to support him, I was always there.
“He likes to surround himself with people who are going to allow him to grow. He’s learned from the right people. He just gets it. It’s something he was blessed with.”
Will remembers when somebody tried to pick a fight with Oli when he was in high school; Oli said he was going to get his brother. All three showed up – along with many of their friends, who were also Oli’s friends.
Ronny was living in Spartanburg when Oli was a freshman at the College of Charleston and called him on the phone one morning.
“He said, ‘Hey, I have a problem. I came out of my apartment and there’s this big yellow thing around my tire. I can’t move my car,’” Ronny said. “I said, ‘Oli, you’ve got a parking boot. Bro, there’s got to be a ticket somewhere with a phone number. Call them.’
“He called back and said they wouldn’t take the boot off. I asked why, and he said he owed $600-plus in unpaid parking tickets. I said, ‘Bro, you’ve got to learn something. If you don’t pay those tickets this is going to keep happening. Why don’t you park somewhere where you’re not going to get a ticket?’
“I ended up going to Charleston and bailing him out of that one.”
Oli learned a lesson from that moment, as he did countless other times in his life.
“He was always picking our brains, about baseball and life,” Will said. “He always wanted to know stuff. That’s why he operates at the level he does now. He wanted information, he wanted wisdom and how he processes it is amazing.
“He understood what was right and what was wrong in a moment. … He loves people. He loves to see people grow.”
As Ronny became more involved in his faith, he wanted to share his beliefs with Oli.
“My role became, ‘How do I become a better influence in Oli’s life?’” Ronnie said. “I came to faith in 2001; Oli was still in high school. I knew the impact I could have on him had to be beyond baseball. I really wanted to focus more on him becoming a man, the man that he was created to be.”
Oli’s closeness with his brothers, and all the memories they have shared, was the reason that when he knew it was going to be announced that he would be the new manager of the Cardinals, he wanted to share that news first with Will, Ronny and Erik.
He organized a conference call and got each of them on the line.
“I was leaving church and he called and said, ‘You might want to pull over. I need to talk to you,’” Will said. “I didn’t pull over and almost crashed my car. I got a couple of horns being honked at me. I finally stopped the car and cried. It was an emotional call and an emotional moment.
“He (Oli) broke down and cried. For all of us brothers to have that moment … it was all the years of practices, the driving, going to tournaments, all those years played back. As he was crying I just thought, ‘This is what it’s all about.’”
Said Ronny, “It was a great time for us to encourage each other. We spent time praying for each other. I told Oli, ‘Look at who you are today by God’s grace.’ We all cried. If you think about it, it really was all of our dreams, to make it to the majors. God had a different plan for us but He still gave us the desires of our heart. We made it to the majors because Oli made it to the majors. That’s the way we saw it, all four brothers.
“I told him later, ‘Bro when I grow up I want to be like you.’ I tell him that all the time. I don’t tell him that because of the platform he has, I say it’s because of the leader he’s become, the man he’s become.”
Added Erik, “Oli’s done nothing but baseball since he was little. That was his obsession. It’s been such a ride; we’re just so proud of him. Out of all four boys, he is the most humble. He’s always been such a good kid. It’s been awesome to see him grow and accomplish what he’s done.
“Above all he loves God first. That’s one of the reasons he is there. It’s where he’s meant to be.”
It’s what Will saw during that Little League game more than 20 years ago.
Before he ended the call, Oli had one thing he wanted to be certain he said to his brothers. It was a message from his heart.
He told them, “This doesn’t happen without you guys in my life.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photos courtesy of the Marmol family. In main photo, left to right, are Oli, Erik, Ronny and Will