Two years ago, at a Phillies function in the Granite Run Mall, in Media, Pa., an elderly woman in her late 70s was being pushed in a wheelchair. She was on a mission. She didn't want to meet Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley or Ryan Howard. She wanted to meet John Marzano. She liked the way he came across on TV and his insights on the Phillies, when Marzano was working for Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia.
Marzano came out of the players-only area, from behind the barricades, and spent a good 20, 25 minutes with the woman, signing everything she wanted. A few weeks later, when Marzano received a thank you note from the woman's son, his eyes began welling up after reading it.
That was typical John, as he was during the many, many times he'd talk about his baseball academy, often going out of his way to make sure that children from the Philadelphia area, especially those less fortunate, were able to spend a few days there, free of charge.
"It's not about money, it's about giving back," Marzano once said about running his namesake baseball academy. "I can't tell how many people helped me get to the Majors, because they were people that gave back. It's something I have to do. Too many times I saw guys make it big, and just turn their backs on who helped get them there. That's not going to be me."
It wasn't. It's why Marzano's death so deeply affected the group of close-knit friends and coaches he leaves behind.
Skip Wilson, the former head coach of the Temple baseball Owls, was like a second father to Marzano. Wilson, 78, who coached the team for 46 years, was dazed when he heard the news of Marzano's death.
"I really couldn't believe it, I still can't," said Wilson. "One of the things I remember about John was how he was always looking at himself in the mirror, combing his hair, and telling me how handsome he was. I remember telling him to put the comb away and get his butt out on the field. He'd just laugh. But he was one of the best players I ever had play for me. He'd always give 100 percent, he always give everything he had."
Wilson noted that Marzano had a way even then in college of touching people. People who didn't know "Johnny Marz" could easily misconstrue him, upon first meeting him, like one of Wilson's daughters.
"John came up and introduced himself to her, and then said, 'Your dad is going to be coaching me for the next couple of years before I make it big in the Majors,' and then he'd just go off laughing," Wilson recalled, adding a little chuckle himself. "That's what remembering John makes you do, it makes laugh. You remember the good times. We had our brush-ups, as coach and player, but once we left the field, that was it."
Wilson noted something interesting. He always had a fear in the back of his mind about Marzano, since John's father, John Marzano Sr., died at the relatively young age of 61, and had heart problems, according to Wilson.
"You never want to think the worst, until the worst happens," Wilson said. "John was so well liked by everyone. I must have received calls all Saturday from former players, stunned like I was about John's death."
Wilson was there when Marzano signed his first Major League contract with the Boston Red Sox. He was there at Marzano's wedding. He'll be there for Marzano's funeral on Friday. The veteran old-school coach has battled a somber feeling over the last few days.
It has caused Wilson to remember the many chats Marzano used to have with him when he drove up to New York every day for his MLB.com job. It made Wilson remember that Marzano's name and legacy in the Philadelphia area will live on, in the league named after him in South Philadelphia, and in Marzano's youth baseball academy.
Wilson is using the time to savor someone who touched him, as well as all those he came in contact with.
"John was a very sentimental person who never forgot his friends," Wilson said. "He never was afraid to speak his mind, and he began to do things in the broadcasting world that he did on a baseball field. He started to get good at it through hard work and devotion, which is why he was a good player. The best thing I can say about John was that he loved people and he loved baseball."