Missing a full year of baseball was nearly as painful as the injury that cost Montrell Marshall those 12 months.
Considering Marshall said his injury — a pars stress fracture, essentially a cracked vertebrae — felt like he was being stabbed in the back each time he swung, well, that’s quite a comparison.
“I was just watching baseball, watching, watching, watching,” Marshall said before Wednesday’s homestand finale against the Helena Brewers at Dehler Park, the frustration in his voice coming through. “I could not play as much as I wanted to play. I watched all senior year, I watched the whole first (professional) season with the guys I got drafted with. I watched my friends play and couldn’t play …”
Marshall first felt the discomfort three weeks before the start of his senior season at South Gwinnett High School in Snellville, Ga. Being young and determined not to let his team down, Marshall continued to prepare for the season, all the while making the injury worse.
People are also reading…
When the opening game finally came around and Marshall threw from his shortstop position to record the final out of the first inning, the pain finally became unbearable.
“I think the left fielder beat me going back to the dugout,” he said. “I said, ‘coach, you’ve got to pull me.’ “
There began an odyssey that took away his senior season of high school ball and cost him several rounds in the MLB Draft a few months later. He also lost all of the 2014 summer, what would have been his rookie season.
What cost Marshall this valuable time had mostly to do with his height. Born to a father who stands 6-foot-1 and a mother who is 5-7, Marshall was 6-4 by his junior year. He eventually grew to 6-5, and the continued growth, with his continued athletic activities, led to the injury.
“I thought I was done growing,” he said. “I was 6-4 at the time. But it wasn’t a major growth. My X-rays showed that my bones weren’t completely done growing. Longer bones are easier to fracture. The doctor actually said think of a clothes hanger … you keep bending it, keep bending it, it’s eventually going to break.”
As he continued to grow, Marshall moved around the infield. He’s landed at first base, where his size obviously helps. Mustangs manager Ray Martinez managed Marshall last year in the Arizona League, and said he is a natural at the position, even if this is just his second season playing it.
“He’s an athlete,” Martinez said, calling Marshall one of the better defensive first basemen in the Cincinnati Reds’ system. “He moves very well for a big guy. He picks the ball and sets up his feet very quickly. He has very good hands.”
Before the injury, Marshall was projected to go between the fourth and sixth rounds. And as the 2014 draft moved into its third day, Marshall gave up hope of being picked.
But the Reds finally came calling in the 12th round, catching Marshall by surprise. After sitting out 2014 -- waiting out the injury proved the only cure -- Marshall batted just .159 in 43 games for the AZL Reds when he finally got back on the field last summer. And though Marshall has struggled early with the Mustangs, Martinez expects his big first baseman to come around.
After all, plenty of baseball people stuck with Marshall despite him missing his final high school season. Auburn stood by its scholarship offer and the Reds swooped in when they saw an opportunity.
That faith isn’t lost on Marshall, who shares some of the levity for which his more famous cousin, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, is noted.
“People just like me, I don’t know,” Marshall said with a laugh. “I’m a lucky guy.”
• Reds' first-round pick Nick Senzel was out of Wednesday’s lineup after a slight shoulder strain suffered while diving for a ball in Tuesday’s game. Senzel looked fine during Wednesday’s batting practice, however, and Martinez said the third baseman will be back in the lineup Thursday in Missoula.
• A couple of Mustangs alums are in the news. Phillip Ervin (’13) hit a pinch-hit grand slam for the South Division in the Class AA’s Southern League All-Star game Tuesday night and was named the contest’s Top Star. The South won, 5-1. Amir Garrett, who made seven starts for the Mustangs in the ’12 and ’13 seasons, made his Triple-A debut Wednesday night for the Louisville Bats.
• The Mustangs were scheduled to auction specially designed jerseys for Stand Up To Cancer Night after Wednesday’s game. Only a few of the jerseys – think a purple version of the Houston Astros rainbow design -- arrived beforehand, however, so that auction will be scheduled at a later date, according to Mustangs general manager Gary Roller.