After six seasons with the Chicago Cubs, former VCU pitcher Sean Marshall was traded to the Cincinnati Reds this winter.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s been a couple years since I had a chance to check in with former VCU pitcher Sean Marshall, currently a member of the Cincinnati Reds. He’s always gracious and much has changed since the last time we last spoke, in August of 2010.

The biggest difference in Marshall since our last meeting wasn’t his uniform, even though he spent his first six Major League seasons as a member of the Chicago Cubs. It wasn’t his new role as Reds’ closer, although that’s sure to cast a new light on the career of one of baseball’s best relievers.

The biggest change in the 29-year-old Marshall is much more subtle. You might not even catch it. When discussing his career, Marshall says “we” and “us” now, much more than he does “I” or “me”. It’s not that he was selfish before – anything but, in fact. But he’s speaking for Team Marshall now, as opposed to just for himself for even for his new club, the Reds.

Marshall and his wife Sarah were married in December of 2010 – by Mr. Cub Ernie Banks, by the way – and the couple welcomed their first child, a son named Brody, last June. Those kinds of changes are much more dramatic than switching the color of your stirrups.

Still, if that wasn’t enough, this winter, with the Cubs in full rebuilding mode and Marshall (career stats) entering the final year of his contract, Chicago dealt the 6-foot-7 lefthander for three prospects. Marshall had been one of the best relievers in baseball the past two seasons, including a 2.26 ERA and five saves in 78 appearances in 2011, and would serve as a cornerstone of Cincinnati’s reconstructed bullpen.

Marshall could’ve waited for free agency at the end of the 2012 season and tested the open market, but the Richmond native signed a three-year, $16.5 million extension with the Reds during spring training. He’ll be under contract with the team through the 2015 season and has a limited no-trade clause. It was a deal made with “we” in mind.

Marshall has appeared in at least 78 games and posted an ERA of 2.65 or better in each of the last two seasons.

“Obviously, the Cubs were in a rebuilding faze and that’s probably why I was one of the first guys to move because I’d be a free agent,” he said. “So it was kind of a decision that my wife and I and my family made and I think it’s the perfect decision.

“It gave me and my family some piece of mind. It gave us the chance to know where we’re potentially going to be for the next four years. So, instead of being on the cuff and thinking about where we’re going to be next and making decisions and where we’ll potentially land at, we thought it was the right thing to do.”

Sarah is from Chicago, and the Marshalls own a home in the Chicago area. They plan to return to The Windy City in the offseason, but are looking forward to their summers in Cincinnati.

What’s good for Sean Marshall, head of household, also happens to be good for Sean Marshall, head of the Reds’ bullpen. Cincinnati had always envisioned Marshall as a key piece of a team that’s built to contend for several years. But when closer Ryan Madson, signed in the offseason, was lost to season-ending elbow surgery during spring training, Marshall moved into the role.

It’s about the only pitching role Marshall hadn’t filled, from starter, to long reliever, to spot starter, to setup man, in his career. Entering this season, Marshall had a total of seven saves, but he feels like he’s ready for the responsibility.

“I think that there’s just more than myself that can close games, but in the meantime, I’ll give it my best shot and I know I’m capable of it, so it’s just a matter of going out and doing it and performing well and being ready to pitch.”

I could write volumes about how the save statistic has inflated the value of the closer, compared other relievers, and you could build a pretty convincing argument that Marshall has been as important to any team as nearly any closer in the game the last two seasons, but the reality is that it’s a role that carries a certain weight. There’s added pressure on the field and off as a closer, and every blown save is amplified by fans and media, but it won’t change the way Marshall approaches pitching.

“It’s the same game,” he said. “There’s probably a little more pressure in the ninth inning to hold the lead, but it’s the same game. If you go out there and make your pitches and execute your pitches and don’t worry about the stuff off the field and the crowd energy and stuff like that it doesn’t matter.”

In the meantime, the game off the field has changed quite a bit for Marshall the last couple of years. Now he’s got other important matters to tend to, such as, will Brody be a rare and valuable left-handed thrower, like dad?

“We’re trying,” Sean says. “We’re trying.”

MARSHALL TIPS CAP TO PAUL KEYES
Marshall also extended his gratitude to VCU Baseball Coach Paul Keyes, who recently announced he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with health issues.

“He was a tremendous influence on my life and my career and helped me get to where I am here today,” Marshall said. “I’m always thankful for that and always thankful for the opportunities that he gave me to pitch for the Rams and I’m sure that all my other teammate feel the exact same way as I do. He’s a great coach and a great leader for us. Not all of us had the chance to play professional baseball, but he was a helping influence on all of our careers, so we’re always thankful for that.”

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