Alex Marinelli Finds His Way Back Home

At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?

The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.

Alex Marinelli has never wanted anything to be about him.

When his own high school graduation party came around, it only took one text—one greater purpose—to pull him away.

The Hyde Park, N.Y.  native received a text from Marist Baseball Coach Chris Tracz, asking him to come catch for a pitching recruit. Hoping to place himself in good standing as he went into his freshman year, he jumped at the opportunity. His graduation party be damned.

Pleading with his mother, “Mom, Tracz just texted me to catch. Can I go catch?” She had obvious hesitations. “I’ll be back in half an hour!” Alex made the 10-minute drive from his childhood home to his de facto home at Marist College.

Tracz thought back to that day. “He just comes running down, catches the bullpen and then leaves. The best part is he didn’t tell me he was at [his] graduation party.”

Alex returned to his party two hours later, having put aside a day supposed to be focused on him.

Baseball was always part of the picture, a larger picture that also included lengthy basketball and football careers. Alex fondly reflects on his Little League days. “It would be the place to be on the weekends. Obviously when we were younger if you had nothing to do you would go to the field, go to the games, just to hang out.” This is where his catching career began.

“Why?” he loads up the answer, catching me before I ask. “I’m a big Jason Varitek guy. I don’t know if that’s exactly why I started catching, but that’s definitely a big part of it,” he said as his answer. He describes the small details that support his admiration for the former Red Sox catcher, from his webbed glove to defensive catching style.

Confirmed: Alex Marinelli is a big Jason Varitek guy.

The Marinelli household is an athletic one, even beyond baseball. His father, Glenn Marinelli, worked as the Coordinator of Sports Medicine at Marist, introducing Alex to the campus and athletic department at a young age. With Alex’s athletic involvement and his father’s long career in sports, it made sense that the first thing the Marinelli’s did when moving into their current home was watch the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALDS.  Jump forward about a month, and the Red Sox win the World Series for the first time in 86 years. Alex smiles, “One of the few times I saw my dad cry, which was cool.”

I had to ask, “So how are you such a huge Red Sox fan being born and raised in Hyde Park?”  

“Dad was born in Enfield, Conn. So obviously Dad grew up, Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox,” he said, understanding my confusion.

Glenn’s New England roots featured a position as an athletic trainer in the New England Patriots organization. He eventually landed in Hyde Park and at Marist College, where he met Alex’s mother, Angela, the cheerleading coach at the time, and would be for the next 32 years.

As a young kid, Alex tagged along with Dad around Marist, high-fiving athletes, and mopping the floor during basketball games. His father’s presence was well known throughout the athletic department. Glenn helped to take the athletic training department from its humble beginnings in a closet-sized room into the program it is today.

Growing up as he did, in what Baseball coach Chris Tracz referred to as “the Marist way,” it seemed that the prophecy would be fulfilled by Alex taking his rightful place somewhere in Marist Athletics.  

Alex had a wide range of athletic talents, but the future of his involvement in sports laid in baseball. When the prospect of becoming a college athlete became real, Alex acknowledged the obvious benefits in attending Marist. But Glenn made it clear what he wanted for his son.

“You should spread your wings, you should look wherever you want to look, go wherever you want to go. Don’t just go to Marist because I’ve worked here [and] this is where you’re from,” Alex recounted his father’s advice.

Taking his father’s words to heart, offers from schools other than Marist were on the table, but a shoulder injury during his sophomore year of high school hindered his prospects. To attend another school, putting baseball aside, and branching out from his de facto home may have seemed like an exciting possibility, but Alex’s first love held true.

“Coach Tracz was nice enough to keep the offer on the table,” Alex laughed in reflection.

“And so, it kind of just came down to, ‘do I want to play baseball — do I not want to play baseball?’ Yes, meant Marist. So, I stayed here.”

The relationship between the two goes back to when Tracz himself pitched for Marist, and even back when young Alex was high-fiving athletes, Tracz knew Alex’s priorities. “The two things that I think: I think he really loves baseball, and I think he really loves Marist.”

While Marist and baseball factored into keeping Alex close to home, a larger responsibility loomed. In 2011, when Alex was a freshman in high school, Glenn Marinelli was diagnosed with cancer.

“Part of that decision was that my dad was getting more and more sick and it was going to be Mom home alone. It was a decision of ‘am I going to go [far away] and leave Mom alone? Or am I going to stay home, in the area, be able to help her where I need to help her and kind of assist her mentally and emotionally?’ And that was part of it.”

Continuing with football, basketball and baseball in high school, Alex always had his father supporting him. In May of his junior year of high school, Alex was leaving football practice to see his father.

“I was going to get in the car to go see him again and my mom called me and said ‘Hey, don’t bother coming.’”

Glenn Marinelli passed away on May 30, 2014.  

Photo courtesy of Alex Marinelli.

“It is just interesting how,” Alex paused, reflecting and holding a sense of pride in explaining his father to someone who had never met him. “every ounce of my relationship with my dad, was athletics. And it’s the way it stopped, it’s the way it started.”

Alex told stories about his father, and referred to him as “Dad,” as if he is everyone’s Dad. “So, Dad was always an athletic trainer,” he said. It was striking, compared to the way most would explain, “My dad…” Maybe, this is just how Alex tells stories, but that lack of possessiveness signals that Glenn Marinelli was more to the Marist community than just an athletic trainer.

Having watched his father in his role over the years, Alex’s passion and excitement for athletic training made choosing a major easy; he knew he wanted to be an athletic trainer from the time he was a freshman in high school. However, over time, the field of athletic training transformed. Much of what was recognizable to Alex from observing his father over the years had changed, ultimately causing Alex to reexamine his path.  

“I get here freshman year. I’m very gung ho about athletic training,” Alex affirmed.

“Sophomore year: yeah, it’s good,” his voice slightly trailed off and he rambled with a bit of uncertainty. “It’s great, it’s fine.”

“Junior year,” he said with certainty in his voice, “I go to the dean of our program like ‘Hey listen. I would like to switch majors.’”

“Ah, great. You’ll be here for six years,” Alex joked about his advisor’s response to the 180-degree major change.

“OK, I’m going to finish my athletic training degree,” he resolved.

Following through with what he started, Alex took the athletic training certification exam this spring. He shrugs it off, “Went well.” He’s confident about the exam, but knowing this is not his path anymore, he can only put so much excitement into it.

He makes it clear: no hard feelings linger between him and his former love. “Athletic training has evolved in a different way from what it was when my dad was doing it.” But it was time to move in a different direction. “Loved it, past tense.”

At this point, Alex has applied for jobs in athletic administration, rather than athletic training,  at various schools around the country. He had recently discussed it with his godfather. “Just being around it at all times and all the little things you pick up,” he said. “It matures you in a way, it teaches you things in a way that sitting at a dinner table talking to your parents can’t. [It teaches you things] about life and about sports and about athletics and about business.”

Despite the turmoil in a career switch, he speaks about it confidently, knowing exactly what he is doing. Alex is used to figuring out a way to make things work.

“So, I have a weird story of my playing career at Marist.” This was the third time Alex had opened with “it’s kind of a funny story.”

The shoulder injury limited his play in the latter parts of high school and in the beginning of college. Seeing a few at-bats freshman year, he was realistic about his playing time with go-to catcher Matt Iantosca being a year ahead of him. Alex speaks highly of Iantosca, as he does with all of his teammates. He shows no resentment, as one might in his situation.

Alex finished his freshman year with two appearances as a pinch hitter. But the path ahead was winding. The time commitment of being an athletic training major and a Division I athlete, combined with taking care of his mom and the looming effects of the previous shoulder injury, all pointed Alex in a different direction. “The writing was kind of on the wall.”

As he began his sophomore year Alex decided to take himself off of the active roster. But Alex Marinelli really loves two things: baseball and Marist.

“Let me be a bullpen catcher.”

“Great,” Tracz reacted, knowing Alex’s value on the team reached beyond the stat sheet.

The decision did not come as any easy one, but then again, Alex is used to making the tough choices. This tough choice proved to be the right one. “By my name not being on the active roster, I was able to do so much more with the pitchers and some of the catchers in pregame and during the game, and practice, and really just be like their guy.”

A postgame write up never said, “Alex Marinelli was up at midnight catching for the Marist pitchers before their shutout,” or “The win came from Alex Marinelli helping a pitcher talk through a bad start last night,” but that’s fine with Alex. He came to terms with his unsung hero role, knowing the positive impact he was having on the team.  

“He’s an advocate for all those guys, and is really, I think, a backbone and someone to lean on when they’re struggling,” Tracz explained. “Just because he’s been through a lot and he kind of can see things from a different vantage point, he’s kind of that — in a way — a player-coach type of guy.”

Photo courtesy of Alex Marinelli.

During his sophomore year, Marist Baseball won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament and earned a bid in the NCAA Baseball Championship. At this point, bullpen catching was Alex’s long term plan. He would tell people, “I’ll see if I can get back on the team in a couple of years,” but explained further, “really my sophomore year I had no goal to get back on the team.”

Alex’s championship ring read Manager.

“Not my thing,” he said.

That quick shock to the ego stirred in his mind for a while. Sitting with his friends early in his junior year, it hit him. “Oh my God, I can’t be a bullpen catcher again.”

It was time for him to get back on the team. In NCAA baseball, removing yourself from an active roster and taking a non-player role results in a loss of eligibility, and regaining eligibility is far from an easy process. After a series of statement submissions, requests for more information and red tape, Liz Donahue, who is in charge of compliance for Marist Athletics, told Alex before the team was set to leave for their first road trip of the season, “You have to talk to Coach Tracz about your standing on the team.”

For Tracz, the decision was easy. “He did everything we asked of him when he was here,” he said. “He was a great supporter of us when he wasn’t and [when] we talked about coming back, it made perfect sense. Again, the value he adds is absolute and somebody that we needed, so it was easy.”

For the remainder of his junior year, Alex took the time to get his arm back to where it needed to be. Of course, he credits former teammate John Parisi for helping him with drills and practicing, for Alex still wouldn’t let it be all about Alex.

It would be easy to harp on a lack of playing time to have direct impact on the success of the team. But his character and care have done as much for the team as any good batting average could.

Tracz explained with a confident sense of pride, “There has been nothing about his approach to our team, his time on our team, or anything where it’s been about him. He’s given himself up physically, mentally and obviously a bunch of his time for his teammates and I think that’s why he takes pride in when we win.”

“I’ve come a long way from a guy who gave up on playing baseball for a year and picked it back up just because of the love of the game,” Alex said.

The 2019 Marist College Baseball roster features No. 99, Alex Marinelli, Catcher, Senior. His name and position are laid out next to a beaming headshot, nearly identical to his father’s.

Through injury, school and the loss of his father, there were plenty of reasons for Alex to push baseball away. He acknowledges that it would have been easy to be numb to the sport, but he has used the bad experiences he has had to stay on a path that continues to lead him back to athletics and baseball.

“I think it shows the deep appreciation I have for those things. Like baseball, the game tried to shove me out the door and I just reopened the door and went back in,” he said. “It’s also the kind of character you have.”

Alex’s character is apparent when you speak with him, or to anyone who knows him. His passion for the things he truly cares for has kept him coming back to his rightful place. He really loves baseball and he really loves Marist. “And I think he loves his teammates,” Tracz made sure to add in at the end.

Alex’s path thus far has been unpredictable and difficult. But when various aspects of life seemingly shove him out the door, he finds a way to open it again.

“Everything I’ve done—and this was not the design of me growing up,” he cut in, even though it seems obvious, “I was not seeking out to be a star catcher turned bullpen catcher, athletic training major turned athletic [administrator]. It’s just…my life has always been very…very maze-y, very all over the place. Eventually, I’m hoping it lands in a pretty good spot.”

Edited by the Center Field Editorial Team.

Header image by Kristin Flanigan.

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