New field continues Marzano's legacy
Former catcher also co-created league for community
PHILADELPHIA -- Oil tanks loom just beyond the cyclone fence in right field. Tapered to the fence is a modest red plastic sign, with "John Marzano Scout League" in white letters spelled across it. Splayed out just before the sign is a beautifully manicured field that was once a dump and a vacant lot on the Sunoco Oil Refinery, located in South Philadelphia.Call it a diamond in the rough. John Marzano wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Marzano got to see the field before he passed away suddenly on April 19. The former catcher and host of MLB.com's "Leading Off" show always had a dream of giving back to kids who aspired to play baseball at a high level. Marzano's dream lives on in the Marzano Scout League, an idea financed and created by Marzano and former Major League pitcher Michael Koplove, now with the Dodgers' Triple-A team in Las Vegas. It's a league that will continue, if Koplove, and his father, Steve, Marzano's attorney, have anything to say about it. There was no doubt whatsoever that the Marzano League would continue after April -- and blossom. "The league was something John was always passionate about," said Michael Koplove, who has played seven years in the Majors, six with the Diamondbacks and one with the Indians. "It was John's brainchild, which shows just how committed he was to young kids learning and playing the game. It's about learning to play the game right, but more importantly, it's about giving these kids exposure. That was always a big deal to John." The league, which is in its second year, was forged out of the friendship between Marzano and the Koplove family. Marzano actually met the Koploves through baseball, when Marzano was looking for a batting cage to work out in soon after he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Steve Koplove had converted a South Philadelphia warehouse into a batting cage and Marzano found out about it. There, Marzano met Steve, and Michael, then a 10-year-old, starry-eyed kid who would gape at meeting his first Major Leaguer. "It was crazy to me, here this 10-year-old, working out with a Major Leaguer, and I was a little star struck," Michael can admit now. "But to know John is to know how much of a regular guy he was. Before you knew it, we'd be playing video games, busting each other's chops. He even worked me out this winter, getting on me like he always did, pushing me to improve. So when I heard about his death, it hit me hard, real hard. I just spoke to him two days before he passed." Michael Koplove and Marzano would frequently talk about why more kids like them, city kids who love baseball, weren't getting greater opportunities in the game, with Division I college scholarships and attracting the attention of Major League scouts. "John and Michael wanted to give something back, to give these kids from South Philly an area and a place to attract Major League and college scouts," said Steve Koplove, who tends to the field every day with his own tractor. "John wanted this league to be free, which it is. We put a media guide together that everyone in baseball will see, college and pro scouts, to watch our kids play. It's what John wanted." The league consists of six teams comprised of star high-school-aged players, and carries 25 players per team, which gives players the flexibility to play for their other summer league teams. Each team plays 15 games. The league starts on Memorial Day weekend and runs into mid-July. A Marzano Scout League team will begin next year, and according to Steve Koplove, there is already talk of enlarging the league, which has a 12-team waiting list. There is also talk of renaming the pristine little field John Marzano Field at Sunoco Park. It's a field that Marzano himself helped build, from moving the rocks and debris to leveling the field. "There was no doubt whatsoever that this league would continue; we have a big memorial sign up for John that will always proudly hang on the fences of this field," Steve Koplove said. "No one has any intention of stopping this. This was John's idea and as long as I have the strength to do this, and my son Michael has strength to do this, this will continue. The league keeps John's memory alive, the fact that it's the Marzano Scout League. That will never go away."
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.