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Philly mourns loss of native son

Philly mourns loss of native son

PHILADELPHIA -- The closest John Marzano got to playing for his beloved Phillies came when he spent the 1994 season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Disappointed that the call never came for the South Philadelphia native, Marzano continued his 10-year Major League career that began in Boston and took him to Texas and Seattle, then retired after spending 1999 in the Minors. He finished his career with a .241 average and 11 homers in 301 Major League games.

Though he never played for the Phillies, he never forgot his baseball roots, finding his way back as a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet and, earlier, as a host on Sports radio WIP before joining MLB.com in 2007. The Phillies always resided in a special place in his heart.

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A city mourned the loss of a likable son who died Saturday at the age of 45. Marzano, a former first-round Draft pick and member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team, passed away at his Philadelphia home. He apparently fell down a flight of stairs after reportedly suffering a possible heart attack.

"You always knew when John was in the room. You never asked, 'When'd you get here, Johnny?'" said Michael Barkann, host of Comcast SportsNet "Daily News Live." "He always made an entrance, and it was big and loud and full of joy."

Marzano appeared on "DNL" on April 17, in front of a crowd before a Flyers' playoff game against the Capitals. Barkann recalled the crowd chanting his name the second they saw him. On the segment, Marzano spoke about his support for all of Philadelphia's teams, then turned to the crowd and screamed "Let's go, Flyers!"

"The place went nuts," Barkann said. "He did that a few more times during his segment. That will be my enduring memory of John -- smiling, talking sports with a sea of fans behind him. I will miss him every day."

Marzano went to grade school at Annunciation BVM Catholic Elementary School, then Central High School and Temple University, and proudly mentioned it whenever possible.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had Marzano briefly in the Minor Leagues, with Triple-A Charlotte in 1993.

"He was kind of a pepper-pot player," Manuel said. "He realized what he had to do to survive. He was a good defensive catcher with a good arm and knew how to call a game. He wasn't a big hitter, but he could hit at times, especially when it counted."

Phillies lefty Jamie Moyer played with Marzano for three years with the Mariners, and remembered a fun-loving guy who didn't mind being the butt of a joke. He also didn't mind dishing out the insults, either, when needed.

John Marzano

Moyer called Marzano, a "great teammate," which in baseball circles represents the highest of compliments.

"He called everybody 'cuz' and was always upbeat," said Moyer, who kept in touch with Marzano. "The guys had a lot of fun with him. He was the brunt of a lot of jokes, but the bearer of a lot of jokes as well. He could always break the ice if it needed.

"As a catcher, he was always trying to make his pitchers better. He was trying to make his teammates better. He did that by having fun."

After playing, Marzano remained in the game as an analyst on "Phillies Post Game Live" for Comcast SportsNet and was serving as co-host of "Leading Off" on MLB.com (with Vinny Micucci). Marzano's insights and humor were infectious. MLB.com will establish an internship program in his memory.

All who knew Marzano professionally spoke of his passion for the work he did. Those who knew him personally remember a person who never forgot who he was.

One such person is Ralph D'Alessandro, a fellow graduate of Annunciation BVM, who knew Marzano simply as "a friend from the neighborhood."

D'Alessandro grew up on Federal St. in South Philadelphia, a block away from Marzano, and the families were close. His oldest cousin, Denise, and Marzano were schoolmates.

D'Alessandro always looked up to Marzano, who was seven years older. Marzano always made it a point to talk sports when he was home, and D'Alessandro often ventured to Baltimore when the Red Sox or Mariners would visit, hoping Marzano might play that day.

His desk at work is adorned with seven Marzano baseball cards on his desk.

"A lot of people have heroes like Michael Jordan, but never get to meet them," said D'Alessandro, who now lives in Pitman, N.J. "[Marzano] was my hero, and the person who I admired most. He was older than me and I'm honored to be able to call someone who played for an Olympic team and in the big leagues a friend."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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