By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
CONCORD, Ont. _ Murray Marshall was a coach.
But he was more than that.
Marshall was a batting instructor, an organizer and a baseball lifer.
But he was much more than that.
Marshall, who passed Feb. 2, was a brother, friend and caring husband. And now 78 days later when memories of the man were still raw and fresh, a sold-out crowd filled the hall. We wrote about Marshall before but this was a different setting for the man who was everything from a foul ball chaser, a bat kicker and pitching coach.
Murray Marshall was much, much more than that and his Team Ontario friends, his family and players gathered at Presidente Banquet Hall.
* * *
Murray Marshall was like a second pop to Palmer Cruickshank (Oshawa, Ont.) who is finishing his fifth year with Marshall’s Team Ontario program and will head to Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. There he’ll join OF Jacob Kompf (Stratford, Ont.) and RHP Sammy Maracle (Brampton, Ont.).
“Murray was an exciting guy who loved the game,” said Cruickshank before the 17th annual Team Ontario banquet that drew a crowd of 500. “I think he would rather be at the park for a doubleheader than going home for Thanksgiving dinner. He was like a father figure to me.”
A versatile performer who can catch or play one of the corner infield spots, Cruickshank said the loss of Marshall, as president of Team Ontario, was difficult.
“It was hard for our whole organization,” he said, “I mean it really kicked us in the butt. But he taught us to work harder for years to come. You always think back to things that he told you ... small bits and pieces ... so you can put it all together.”
He told of the first time Marshall’s dugout became noisy. How his team would be getting blanked, Marshall would stomp the length of the dugout and kick the bats, sending the wood or aluminum clattering onto the cement. As a first-hand witness it was both shocking and annoying.
“Just waking up the bats boys, just waking up the bats,” he would say.
Cruickshank’ best game this spring came on a trip to Cumberland University in Tennessee where he went 2-for-4, including a run-scoring single up the middle against the Phoenix JVs. His best game last season was going 4-for-5 with two doubles and a triple, against the Field House Pirates at the University of Toronto in Scarborough.
* * *
Murray Marshall was a dear, dear friend to both Loretta Murray and her husband Keith Murray.
Keith was first to speak and explained how it took Loretta, who steered the organization through so many land mines, all day to complete the seating chart for the 500 people at the banquet. Usually it only takes an hour.
“I think Murray was talking to her,” said Keith Murray, who told the story about the team spending a week at Disney’s Wide World of Sports and how the Disney executive was so impressed with Loretta that he approached Marshall asking if he could hire Loretta. Loretta was not going anywhere and as Keith recalled “As Murray said, ‘No way Loretta was leaving me to work for Mickey Mouse and Goofy.’”
Keith Murray described Marshall as relentless when it came to “giving of himself.”
* * *
Murray Marshall was mentor to Team Ontario 18U coach Jason Booth. Booth told of coaching in Indiana in 2008 and calling Marshall to ask him about players, then joining the Oakville Royals a year later and in 2012 coming over to Team Ontario at Marshall’s urging.
“Day 1 was an eye opener for me, he taught me more about the game than I thought I could ever know,” said Booth.
Besides the ball diamond, the two would share time on the golf course.
“Any time there was a putt longer than 15 feet, he would elbow me out of the way and say, 'Let the old dog show you how it is done.' And five minutes later ... Murray would putt out.”
* * *
Murray Marshall was an “enthusiastic” coach according to RHP Cory Levy (Thornhill, Ont.).
RHP Kyle Perrett (Sharon, Ont.) and Levy are coming off successful 2016 seasons.
Levy pitched four innings against Cumberland this spring, allowing one run on two hits and a walk, striking out three facing hitters “five years older.” Team Ontario alum Graeham Luttor (Toronto, Ont.) is already at Cumberland, along with LHP Cory Duggan (Toronto, Ont.).
Perrett is a side-armer like Brad Ziegler, Joe Smith or say Mark Eichhorn and is heading to Wabash Valley College in Illinois.
This year all three Team Ontario clubs will wear MM on their hats, Marshall’s uniform No. 6 has been retired and at the banquet Marshall became the first and only inductee of the inaugural Team Ontario Hall of Fame class. Joel Gattoni and Booth presented Brock Marshall, Murray’s son, with a framed black and red jersey No. 6.
* * *
Murray Marshall was an associate scout for the Toronto Blue Jays and toured the province with the likes of Remo Cardinale, Steve Trout, Mike Carnegie, Marc Picard, Mike McRae and Rick Johnston, running coaching clinics and tryout camps for Baseball Ontario.
He started the Hamilton Astros which had 16U and 18U teams based out of Stoney Creek, coached the Ontario Youth team before moving to Team Ontario to join Marc Picard.
Murray Marshall was also loving a father to Brock Marshall, whom he coached, as well as his daughters Natalie and Suzanne and a husband to his wife Darlene.
Brock gave an eloquent, heartfelt speech about his father playing third base for East York to junior, as an “average or maybe a little better infielder with a good glove, decent bat, no power -- which I unfortunately inherited -- and a bit of foot speed.”
“He was far from a star, and that was fine,” Brock said. “It forced him to try a little harder than the next guy, think a little deeper, and try to gain an edge. He loved being able to out think the other team, make the crafty play, understand the rules better, and work the umpires ... oh did he love to work the umpires.”
It’s a difficult task speaking about or to your late father. Brock said he wanted to speak of the lessons he had learned from his father ... and he did so well:
_ “Baseball is the greatest game in the world. If you love the game, and respect the game, it can produce great things for you. It can, in many ways, be a metaphor for life.”
_ “You have to respect your opponent, but want to beat them every time."
_ “If you want to be the best you can be, you have to put in the effort. And you have
to want to put in the effort."
_ “Compete hard, every time."
_ “Love your team. This is the most important. Baseball is unique in that it takes the
whole team to be successful. In dad’s book, everyone mattered. Starting shortstop, clean-up hitter, backup catcher, middle reliever. It takes everyone. I’m sure many of you heard him say, 'The most important guy on the team is the guy standing beside you. Play for each other.'”
Brock said the older he gets the more he believes his father’s best friendships were spawned out of baseball; “Jeffy (Nester), Chopper (Greg Miner), Bob Nelson, Dave Pierce, Dennis Hill and of course Loretta and Keith (Murray).”
Brock told the youngsters he is twice the age of some of them, but to this day “some of my very best friends were teammates on the Astros. A few are still teammates, living the dream in Senior A ball. Some don’t play anymore, but friendships last. Hopefully yours will too.
“As I noted a few months ago, even though dad has finished rounding the bases of life, we know that he has reached home … and he is safe,” Brock said. “And though he isn’t here physically, I believe that he’ll be there in spirit, weekends in the summer, probably sitting on the unoccupied ball bucket outside the dugout.”
Brock hit a grand slam.
“I closed my eyes and I could hear Murray Marshall speaking to us,” Loretta Murray would say much later in the night.
Kyle Perrett and Palmer Cruickshank received the Murray Marshall scholarship awards.
* * *
Murray Marshall was also a life saver.
Not the actual kind that sit by the YMCA pool, but a real actual man who saved a life.
Seated at Table 1 were Marshall’s wife Darlene, Murray’s sister Lynda and husband Bill, Murray’s brother Jim and wife Brenda, best friends Jeff and Sandra Nester and of course Greg (Chopper) Miner.
Miner and Marshall knew each other back from their East York days of ball. Miner, who was younger, had legendary coach Buck Reed as his mentor. Each year around the holidays their old hockey team, the Rum Runners, would get together for a game. They would rent at the Double Rink or Scarborough or where ever they could find ice.
In December of 2005 they met at Leaside Arena for their skate. Miner, 45, skated around and was not feeling well, so he headed to the dressing room.
Miner said he knew he was out of shape, but he could not catch his breath, something was wrong. Marshall arrived late from a business meeting and after checking with players on the bench decided to go in and check on Chopper.
Marshall told him to get his gear off and he’d drive him over to the hospital for a look see. Miner whispered since he was in so much pain “I feel embarrassed, but I can’t take my skates off.” Miner undressed and changed into his street clothes.
Driving across the Leaside bridge to East York General, Marshall reached over and felt Miner’s pulse. “You’re racing,” Marshall told Miner.
Once in the hospital, Miner was told to take a seat in the waiting room. He went back to the desk and said “I’m in trouble.” So Miner was taken into the emergency room and hooked up to measure what was going on.
The nurse looked at him and said slowly “Sir ... I don’t want you to panic but you are soon going to be surrounded by a lot of doctors.” Miner was hooked up to an IV, then he flat lined.
The phrase is slang for a cardiopulmonary arrest happening to a patient in a hospital or clinic, requiring a team of providers to rush to the specific location and begin immediate resuscitative efforts. They brought Miner back.
Marshall phoned Miner’s wife Jackie to tell her the news that her husband had suffered a heart attack and they were at the hospital. Of course getting a call from noted comedian/prankster Marshall ... well let’s just say it took a while for Jackie to believe Marshall.
He flat lined a second time.
By now the Rum Runners had left the rink and were checking in ... like Bruce Nicholls standing over Miner screaming “CHOPPER DON’T YOU DIE ON US, CHOPPER, DON’T YOU DIE ON US!” He was brought back.
Miner was moved to the fifth floor and the cardiac ward ... where he flat lined again.
Again CODE BLUE!
“I remember a doctor screaming my name ‘GREG! GREG! GREG!,” Miner said. He was brought back again.
At Table 1 at the 17th annual Team Ontario banquet, which was more a farewell to Murray Marshall, Miner said “On a selfish note, Murray gave me my life back.”
They brought in people to talk to Miner, to see how he was mentally after getting knocked down three times and getting back up.
“I was angry -- angry at myself, I lost my father when I was four,” Miner said. “I didn’t want to do that to my wife and daughters.”
Stephanie and Jennifer were 14 and nine respectively and are now 26 and 21.
They have their father, a slimmed-down version (30 pounds lighter).
The next year one by one the Rum Runners walked into the rink. There was Bob Nelson, former East York coach and Toronto Blue Jays farm director; Mike Sanford, who played shortstop for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Bruce Nicholls, who played for the Etobicoke Rangers and coach Bob Smyth.
They walked into the dressing room and there in the middle of the floor was a chalk outline ... like you see outlining a body in a TV cop show as the investigators walk around scratching their chins.
“That,” Miner said, “was Murray’s idea.”
* * *
At Table 3 were son Brock and his wife, Tanya, daughter, Natalie, whose husband Kent was away on business, daughter Suzy and Jessie plus niece Heather and fiancée Ted.
Memories were shared of Marshall amongst former coaches and players and executives from his Hamilton Astros to his Team Ontario days. And of course there was talk of what lies ahead for the Team Ontario squads.
At the time of his passing Marshall was the president of Team Ontario.
But he was more than that.
Murray Marshall was a coach, a man with a baseball-shaped heart, a lifer, an Ontario Youth Team coach, a Toronto Blue Jays scout ... a loving father and husband. He was all of those ...
And in the case of his pal Greg Miner, he was a true life saver.
Team Ontario Awards:
Pitcher of the Year: Alexander MacKinnon (Aurora, Ont.).
Currently a relief pitcher for the Division One Niagara U Purple Eagles who has been impressive in his freshman year with a 2-1 record, one save and 4.60 ERA in 18 games. He had walked 13 and struck out 14 in 19 innings.
Position Player of the Year: 3B David McCabe (Courtice, Ont.)
Currently Team O’s starting third baseman he is preparing for his first 18U season after a stellar season at the 16U level as the club’s best hitter.
Coach of the Year: Rich Russell (Toronto, Ont.)
Currently Team Ontario’s 18U hitting coach and bench coach after an outstanding career with Division One Marshall University Thundnering Herd as one of the top catchers in the NCAA. Russell earned Canandian Baseball Network Second Team All-Canadians honors in 2006 and honourable mention honours on the 2004 All-Canadian team for the Marshall Thundering Herd.
Murray Marshall Memorial Scholarship Awards to Graduating Players heading to USA in 2017-18: Palmer Cruikshank (Oshawa, Ont.) and Kyle Perrett (Sharon, Ont.)
They were the inaugural winners, Cruikshank is headed to Ellsworth Community College and Perrett to Wabash Valley College.
Hall of Fame Inductee: Former president Murray Marshall (Stoney Creek, Ont.)
Marshall, who passed Feb. 2, was inducted posthumously as Team Ontario’s inaugural Inductee, and his uniform No. 6 was also retired by the organization.