Seattle Mariners’ Pitcher Discusses Wild Playoff Picture
Catholic Cleveland native Nick Margevicius is hopeful for the future.
After 20 years away from the playoffs, the Seattle Mariners nearly made it back. The wildcard race went down to the last day, with the Mariners barely edged out of postseason play.
At 90-72, the Mariners posted their best record since 2003. This showing gives great hope to Nick Margevicius, a 6-foot-5-inch left-handed pitcher for the Mariners, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this year.
Margevicius, who made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut at the age of 22, is loaded with potential. Next season looks brighter than ever for him and the Mariners, but he is keeping his sights much closer to his present situation.
Simplicity and silence, often shunned by the world, have become top priorities for Margevicius. A graduate of Ignatius High School in Cleveland, he explained the benefits of toning things down and keeping the Catholic faith going in this recent interview.
You’ve been recovering from a shoulder injury for most of this season. What exactly was wrong, and how is the rehab coming along?
I had surgery to correct Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is related to the area between the collarbone and first rib. The surgeon did a thorough decompression of my thoracic area in order to alleviate symptoms and help me throw like I used to.
The rehab is going well. For a long time after the surgery, which took place in May, I was not allowed to throw, but I’ve been throwing for about a month now and am looking to continue progression toward normalcy.
The Mariners did well to almost make the playoffs for the first time in two decades. What is it like to be a part of that generally and yet, because of your injury, not part of that immediately?
This team has been really good all year long, but especially since the All-Star break. It’s a joy to be part of that in a distant way, but it’s hard to sit out and not be able to make my own contribution to the team.
Nonetheless, it has been really exciting to follow the team every day here from Arizona, and I’m excited for all the guys in the clubhouse to have done so well. It makes next season’s playoff chances look really good.
The playoff picture for this year has been really wild, especially in the American League [AL]. There were four teams in the AL East competing for the division or a wildcard spot. The AL West has been tough as well, with Houston, Seattle and Oakland all making a run.
It seemed like every couple of days the standings looked a lot different. It just so happened that we barely missed out in the end, but I have a good feeling about next season, and I am very much looking forward to personally contributing to the team.
I think something that’s really interesting to watch for in these playoffs in particular are the major differences in the style each team plays with. Analytics is clearly driving change in the game, so rosters are constructed differently, and the style of the game will be different on a team-by-team basis. They are all really good teams, of course, but how they win is different, and I think it will be fun to watch how those styles work against each other in the postseason.
Did you have a favorite player growing up?
Jim Thome, an infielder and designated hitter for the Indians, was my favorite. First, he was a really good player who made the All-Star roster five times, but on top of that, he was positive and friendly outside the game itself. He’s like Mike Sweeney, in that everyone seems to like him — not only for his play but for his off-the-field efforts to make good things happen.
Were you always able to combine sports and spirituality?
My parents made sure that happened, but I would go further. It wasn’t just that we could combine sports and spirituality, but that it was made very clear to me that spirituality took precedence over sports.
When I was playing youth baseball, we traveled a lot — inside and outside of Ohio. It was fun to play in New York or Pennsylvania or other states, but it was also neat to see so many different churches along the way.
With all the miles we put in, one thing my parents insisted upon was, no matter where we were, that we always managed to attend Sunday Mass. If that meant I was late for batting practice before the game, then I was late for batting practice before the game.
It wasn’t a 50/50 thing for my parents with baseball and God. Being a practicing Catholic was, without any doubt, more important than playing baseball. If there was ever a conflict between the two, God won.
Have you found that being a practicing Catholic provides you with enough perspective and structure in order to play better?
I think it does. Aside from the clear priorities that the official teachings of the Church provide, the organization of the year helps, too. There’s not just Christmas, but Advent before that; there’s not just Easter, but Lent before that.
Maybe the ebb and flow of the Church’s days of penance and days of celebration help Catholic players adjust better to losses and wins, or training and getting to the playoffs or injury recovery and making the active roster again. Baseball is made up of all kinds of varying situations, but the Church’s calendar was like that long before baseball came about.
What has been one of the most surprising things for you in MLB?
Growing up, most guys think of getting to the majors as the finish line. If you get there, it’s all done, and you don’t have any work left to do. I’ve learned from my experience that it’s far from the end. You still have to learn more about hitters, bounce back from injuries, deal with sometimes unreasonable expectations and do other things that make for better pitching.
You have to keep going as if you’ve never achieved anything. The Parable of the Talents speaks to this, because we’re all given different gifts, skills and talents by God, and it’s our job to develop them to glorify God. We can’t just receive a gift and store it away or even use it a little and then store it away; we have to keep using it in one way or another.
For baseball specifically, it’s about moving forward as steadily as possible, not getting too high or too low, and taking enjoyment in what you do have control over: just that one pitch you’re throwing now. My father-in-law was a left-handed pitcher at St. John’s University [in New York] and told me, on the way out the door before this year’s spring training, to get outs in a monotonous fashion. That’s funny, but it’s also accurate — because it’s how a pitcher invests his talents; it’s not a huge investment all at once, but a pitch-by-pitch endeavor that adds up over time.
Sounds like what Reagan Todd learned from his transition to pro ball.
In college, you can get emotionally charged for a weekend series of three games and then recover for the next series. In the pros — especially the majors — there’s just not the time. You have a game every day, so things keep going, whether you want them to or not. You have to move on to the next one, which is much easier if you don’t have a huge emotional investment in any given game.
You have an uncle who is a priest, Father Tom Margevicius, which prompted some to say that you had two Padres in the family when you were with the San Diego organization.
When I was younger, I was able to receive my first Holy Communion from my uncle. Sacramentally receiving Jesus for the first time is certainly more than enough to make for a special day, but my uncle made it even more special.
First confession was a little different, though. I’m not sure of anyone who, given the choice, would decide to confess to his uncle — maybe when in danger of death, with no other priest around, but not in ordinary circumstances.
You went to Catholic elementary and high schools. What stands out from those days?
In grade school at St. Albert’s [in North Royalton, Ohio], we’d go to Mass every Friday and on holy days or other special Masses during the week. Part of it might just have been a little kid looking forward to a shorter class schedule and/or the start of the weekend, but I loved going to Mass on Fridays. It was like God was blessing the school and my endeavors at baseball or other sports as we moved our focus outside of the school.
I really enjoyed my time at Ignatius High School, not just because we learned about theology, but because they prefaced it with philosophy. We’d learn about Socrates before Loyola; how to think well as humans in general before thinking well as Christians in particular. That pattern makes perfect sense, because Christianity is not something tagged onto us externally, but the intrinsic fulfillment or completion of who we are naturally.
I also liked learning Latin in high school. We even had Masses in Latin every so often, which was neat. It keeps you grounded in the history and liturgical tradition of the Church. It’s a reminder that something truly sacred is taking place, since it’s not just the everyday language we use at the bank or post office.
Latin is not a language you speak like English, but it does help to know where we got a lot of our words from. Plus, the next time I go to a Latin Mass, I can follow along fairly easily, despite not remembering every last word.
Do you know Ignatius High School graduate Father Alan Vincent Benander, who came from a large family, played baseball and is now with the Norbertines in California?
It looks like we’re about two decades apart, so no, I can’t recall him or others by that name. However, I may end up meeting him down the road, since he has offered Masses for MLB Catholics in California.
One great Catholic man involved in MLB I have already befriended is Craig Stammen. We met in my first MLB season in San Diego. He found out I was a Catholic from Ohio, like he is, so he took me to Masses. He’s a rarity, in that he not only practices his Catholic faith, but actively encourages others to do so. He’s vocal and demonstrative about it, which is something lots of us Catholics need to work on.
You met your wife in college at Rider University. How did that come about?
Shannon was on the soccer team, and I was on the baseball team. The athletes often hung out with each other, so we generally had the same large group of friends and acquaintances.
She mentioned that she would go to Mass if she could, but didn’t have a car. I told her I had a car and that I went to Mass every Sunday. She said flatly, “You do not.” I reassured her that I did, but she just said, “No, you don’t.”
She couldn’t believe that I would be away at college, have a car and make the effort to worship God in public without the direct prodding of my parents — and that I’d be offering her the opportunity to join me. Well, my roommate helped to convince her that I was not sleeping in on Sunday mornings. While he couldn’t say for sure I was going to Mass, he did know that I went somewhere every week.
After she was finally convinced, I started to take her to Mass with me. For quite a while it was simply a matter of being an unpaid Uber driver, so to speak, because we were not dating. It was simply a Catholic helping a fellow Catholic.
What importance has prayer had in your life as a Catholic?
When I was little, my parents prayed with me every night. It started as simple prayers of asking God to bless Mommy, Daddy, Oma (“grandma” in German), Opa (“grandpa” in German), cousins and others.
I’ve since learned and added more prayers, but still hold to the tradition of praying every night before going to sleep. Daily prayer is something our family also did together, like weekly Mass.
My father’s Lithuanian immigrant parents settled in Cleveland around a church and became heavily involved in it. My grandma from my mother’s side prays seven Rosaries every single day, so those types of things have had a positive impact on how I see the Church.
Is there a specific lesson you learned from this year’s injuries?
Something I’ve learned from my downtime with injuries is the value of sitting in silence. It’s not only a matter of being able to reflect without distractions, but to simply enjoy what is right before me. I feel the warmth of the sun on my face, hear the birds chirping, see the greenery around and feel the wind blowing. It’s a matter of receiving what’s there. When you do that, you’re not caught up in troubles and anxieties; you’re like a little kid who is humbly taking in what is present to him.
If you look at kids, they can become completely engrossed in the smallest of things that adults take for granted. If you try to recapture a little of that focus, you can play sports really well.
Sounds like something University of Virginia (UV) assistant basketball coach (and now director of scouting for UV) Brad Soderberg would say.
Silence might be even more important for a basketball player or coach, since the noise in that sport is more constant than it is in baseball. Baseball carries a slowness and silence of its own.
What are some the blessings you can ponder in silence?
I am blessed to have met such an incredible woman at the time I did in college. God works in mysterious ways, and, no question, that has been my experience. I remember my high-school graduation Mass at the cathedral in Cleveland, and the topic of the homily was bringing the flame of the Holy Spirit with us wherever we went to college. I didn’t know exactly what that meant then, but I took it to mean being open to the path God has in store for us.
I don’t know the path God has for me after this season but am confident in his plan for me — whatever that might be. Though my future is unclear, I do know Shannon and I will go forward together in the Church. We attend Mass together and look forward to raising our children in the Church as well — when God blesses us with them. Until then, we’re taking things day to day.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015)
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews,
most of which have appeared in the Register.
His latest book is Apostolic Athletes.