Newton-native James Marino started working out at the South Shore Baseball Club when he was a Little Leaguer and now he’s a sophomore catcher at Davidson College in North Carolina.
The 1998 Newton North graduate was a Boston Herald All-Scholastic, Eastern Massachusetts all-star and the unanimous choice as the Hammel Award winner for being the best high school baseball player in Newton (includes Newton South and Trinity Catholic).
Marino wanted to attend a small school and continue his baseball career in college. His final choices came down to Davidson, Duke, Wake Forest, William & Mary, and Brown. “I came down here (North Carolina) as a junior with my father and visited Davidson, Wake Forest and Duke,” James explained. “My uncle lives near here in Raleigh. I later visited William & Mary. Davidson only has a little more than 1600 students and baseball has worked out well for me here.” Although he hasn’t declared his major, James said that it’s between economic and chemistry.
Last season, he started 20 games at third base, a position he played only once or twice in blowouts at Newton North, and batted .237. He’s back behind the plate this season for Davidson, starting two-thirds of the games, and batting .338, third best on the team. He also shares the team lead with three sacrifice flies, ranks second on the club with a .491 on base percentage, and third in slugging percentage (.500), home runs (3), hit by pitches (5), and walks (22).
“My father (Larry) feels that my hitting last year was due to me playing a different position, taking things to the plate that happened to me on the field,” the 5-10, 200 pound catcher noted. “Maybe he’s right. I’m not worried about making a mistake in the field. Now, I know that I’m going to be the starting catcher, or DHing, when I’m not behind the plate. I’m more confident at bat and catching well, too.”
Catching is the most demanding position, physically and mentally, in baseball. Marino has that catcher’s mentality – a warrior in shin pads, chest protector, and mask. “I like being a catcher because I’m in every single play and in control,” Marino continued. “Playing another position may not be as physically wearing on the body, but there’s not much that I can do at another position if our pitcher is having trouble getting the ball over. As the catcher, I can go out and help him focus, talk to him a little.
“I call about 85-90 percent of the pitches. It helps to have smart pitchers like we have at Davidson. Our coach calls pick-off moves and pitches in special situations. I like setting-up hitters. It’s fun, like a game within the game. Being a catcher may help me a little as a batter, too. I know what strike zone each particular umpire has for that game. If he’s calling pitches two inches off the outside of the plate a strike, I know that I have to swing at it with two strikes on me.”
Marino started going to SSBC as an 11-year-old. In season, he made the trip from Newton to Hingham a few times a week to get in some extra at bats and work at different things. During the winter months he went there to keep in shape and workout with his brother, Michael, a pitcher who is now playing hockey at Fairfield.
“My father brought me to the South Shore Baseball Club when I was young,” James fondly remembered. “I’m not sure if he read about it, knew somebody’s son who was a member, or was told about SSBC by a friend. That’s how I got to know (SSBC president/director) Frank Niles, though.
“I’m a pull hitter. I knew that I had to learn how to go the other way. I didn’t want to do it in high school, but I knew I had to and I learned how at SSBC. I have a big lower body. Frank got me to get my legs into it (swing), rotating, and hitting the ball hard. I started getting all of my body into it instead of just my hands and arms.”
With non-league victories against Duke, North Carolina State and William & Mary, Davidson is now preparing to lock horns with traditional powers like Citadel, UNC-Greensboro and Georgia Southern in the Southern Conference Tournament at the end of May.
And SSBC’s James Marino will be behind the plate calling pitches for Davidson.