Pitcher James Marvel joins Pirates, reflects on ‘unique, special’ journey
James Marvel’s first call was to his parents in California.
“I already told them I was going to bed so their first question was, ‘Is everything OK?’ ”
Never better, actually.
Undefeated as a pitcher in Triple-A Indianapolis this season, Marvel was on his way to the Pittsburgh Pirates and his first major league opportunity.
Marvel was at home in Washington D.C. on Wednesday night when his phone rang just before 11 p.m. He was told to pack his bags, get in the car the next morning and start driving.
The hour was late, and he had just concluded a nine-hour drive from Indianapolis. He arrived before the Pirates’ game Thursday against the Miami Marlins at PNC Park, but the team did not immediately activate Marvel. Manager Clint Hurdle indicated Marvel might be insurance in the event Mitch Keller, who was hit in the wrist by a line drive Tuesday, cannot take his regular turn Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I’ll do whatever’s asked of me,” he said.
In early July, Marvel was called up from Double-A Altoona to Indianapolis and became the ace of the starting rotation, compiling a 7-0 record, 2.67 ERA and 1.121 WHIP.
But that was the easiest leg of his trek through pro ball, one he referred to as “unique” and special.”
He was a 37th-round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins in 2012, but he opted to go to Duke. He appeared in 14 games for the Blue Devils and won six of 10 decisions, but he suffered a leg injury as a freshman and underwent Tommy John surgery as a sophomore.
Near the end of his recovery in 2015, the Pirates drafted him in the 36th round, and he worked his way through the system from Morgantown, W.Va., to Bradenton, Fla., to Altoona and Indy and, finally, to PNC Park.
“Growing up, I always had this idea of what my career was going to be,” said Marvel, who is 12 days shy of his 26th birthday. “It didn’t turn out like that, but I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve been through, particularly the injuries when I was younger. Because I really do believe those things changed my career, made me a stronger player, a stronger person.
“And the things I had to go through physically and mentally, I know for certain I wouldn’t be where I am today without having gone through it.”
What kept him going?
“It probably comes back to having a dream,” he said. “It’s been my dream to play in the big leagues. It’s something I’ve worked hard towards. My parents (mom, Julie, was a golfer who played in two U.S. Women’s Opens as an amateur) raised me to embrace adversity. Adversity wasn’t the end of the road but a new beginning.”
After he threw in Indianapolis’ last game Monday — five shutout innings at Louisville — he went home to make his offseason plans.
He never had a chance to map out those plans, but he did resume throwing.
Before the Pirates called, he grabbed the only baseball he could find, found a public tennis court and started throwing it against a fence. Alone.
Without a catcher, it was a time-consuming exercise, but he said he did it “just to feel good.”
“It doesn’t sound as bad as it was. It’s almost a little therapeutic,” Marvel said.
He said he’s grateful for the chances the Pirates have offered, from drafting him in the middle of his recovery from Tommy John surgery to the opportunity to put on a big-league uniform for the first time Thursday afternoon.
After all, he doesn’t know if he can pitch in the majors until he pitches in the majors.
“In pro ball, you don’t know what it’s like to have guys on second and third with the game on the line and nobody out until, you’re in that situation,” he said. “I’ve been in that situation. I’ve failed in that situation.
“I’ve just always tried to know when it happens again, I’ll be better for it.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .