NEW YORK -- At the age of 13, Jason Marquis pitched a no-hitter for Staten Island Little League against Canada to secure third place in the Little League World Series.
On Friday night, Marquis was 35 and truly back where he belonged. The former All-Star spoke to at least 100 kids in uniform as the Staten Island Little League complex was reopened in a lighting ceremony after sustaining $1.5 million in uninsured damage from Superstorm Sandy. The complex was renovated thanks largely to a $235,000 grant from Major League Baseball's Baseball Tomorrow Fund.
Marquis, recovering from Tommy John surgery, told MLB.com he is throwing 90 pitches at a time, expects to throw for clubs in two to three weeks and be on the mound for a team in four to six weeks. He also made it very clear that he would love to "come home" with the Mets or Yankees.
"I've been trying for the last five years to come home. I would love to come home," Marquis said. "I'll throw for them in whatever setting they want."
Addressing the adoring young ballplayers who follow in his footsteps, Marquis said:
"I was once in your shoes. You guys are re-energizing me to battle back from a surgery that I had. I'm close to coming back, and this is only going to help me get back quickly. Whether it's the Mets or the Yankees, I'd love to play a game in New York and be around you guys, so we'll see what we can do. Enjoy every day. Play ball, guys, enjoy everything."
Marquis (121-114) has pitched 1,921 innings for eight clubs, including the last two seasons for San Diego, where he was 9-5 in 2013 before it was announced he would need surgery. As BTF executive director Cathy Bradley told him during the ceremony, it was auspicious timing that MLB could catch him "between assignments" while he was at home during his recovery process.
"I just think of coming out on the field and having fun, playing the game I love," Marquis, a father of three including a Little Leaguer, said before the ceremony. "I have great memories actually at this Little League from an All-Star game when I was 11 years old. But it makes me feel like a kid again. I'm coming off Tommy John surgery. Nine months removed, I'm probably two or three weeks away from throwing for teams and signing with a team, and it certainly gives me that young energy back to get going again, to see these young faces, to see how excited they are to play the game.
"I've always been a self-motivator. I love the game. I don't want to give it up yet. My family doesn't want me to give it up yet. Also from the aspect of, sometimes you get kicked down and you've got to get back up. That's something I try to teach my son. Hopefully these young guys, whether it's from an injury to an 0-for-4 game or giving up seven runs in a game, whatever it may be, just keep battling, keep going, and know that there's always going to be another shot.
"The setting up of throwing I leave up to my agents," he added. "I'm nine months removed. I'm throwing at 100 percent, all my pitches. I'm throwing to hitters already. I'm throwing about 90 pitches off the mound. So I'm ready to go. I feel like I'm four to six weeks away from pitching in a game. I'm excited about the opportunity, I never take one day for granted, I've worked my butt off my whole life and this situation is no different."
As Marquis spoke, it was impossible not to think about what it was like not long ago in the very place he was standing. The storm surge brought a wall of water from the Atlantic Ocean right down Naughton Avenue and across Hylan Boulevard onto the four Staten Island Little League fields. The clubhouse walls caved in, heavy equipment flipped over, dumpsters crashed into the press box, and the water line was well over the top of the dugouts at nine feet. It was too much for one Little League organization to bounce back from by itself, but everyone involved persevered and BTF stepped in.
Field lighting, repair of the Challenger Field, which is utilized by disabled participants, and overhaul of the batting cages and training center were ranked among the highest priorities by the organization in order to reopen the complex. The $235,000 BTF grant was the largest single contribution to the effort, toward the replacement of the underground electrical system and the installation of new Musco Lighting on three of the fields. Musco provided a significant discount for the lighting equipment. Local businesses and independent contributors donated the remainder to restore the complex.
"The Baseball Tomorrow Fund is honored to assist Staten Island Little League in their recovery efforts from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy," Bradley said. "This league is a historic and valuable part of the Staten Island community and we are happy that it can continue to offer the successful tradition of baseball and softball to the youth of this community. Also, a special thanks to our partner, Musco Lighting, Inc., without which projects like this one would not be possible."
"After the disaster of Superstorm Sandy, Musco was proud to partner with the Baseball Tomorrow Fund to be part of the rebuilding efforts for the Staten Island Little League," said Musco representative Don Rhuda. "We are excited to supply the lights for the 'Opening Night Under the New Lights' as the community continues to heal after the devastation of the storm."
The official reopening of the Staten Island Little League complex is one of six New York-based Sandy Relief events BTF has joined in celebrating this spring since pledging to assist local leagues in their recovery following the storm. For Marquis, it was a moving moment.
"It's exciting, just to walk out of the clubhouse and see the green grass, the chatter, the buzz, kids throwing the baseball around," he said. "We've come a long way from two years ago ... to get these kids back on the field, excited about baseball again, excited about life again. ... That's a testament to the community that we live in. I'm proud to call it home."
The kids rushed him for autographs the entire time, and he relished the moment.
"Aw man, just like these guys," he said, going back in time. "Excited to be on the field, having your hopes and dreams at 10, 11 or 12 years old still alive. Never give up on your dream. I'm glad they've got smiles on their faces. That's what it's about. Getting these kids out here playing ball, off the streets, and enjoying the game I love and hopefully they love, too."