Mike Marjama: The Relationship Guru
There’s a special person in Mike Marjama’s life. They spend seemingly all of their time together. They’re constantly talking about work, or life, or anything else that’s going on. Sometimes they just relax, maybe they go out for food, or they could simply hang out and watch some TV.
Marjama’s special someone isn’t really a “someone,” though. That’s because there’s multiple “someones”. There’s more than a dozen actually. That’s how the Durham Bulls catcher views the relationship between himself, and the Bulls’ pitching staff.
“There’s a bond between pitchers and catchers that people think they understand,” said Marjama as he shakes his head side to side. “It’s really like a relationship in a way; like a marriage.”
That might seem like an odd analogy coming from a man who isn’t actually married himself, but the way the 27-year-old backstop describes his relationship with his pitchers certainly sounds like nuptial language.
“There’s always a give and take,” said Marjama of dealing with pitchers. “There’s always some guys you’re going to have to go give a pat on the butt and say ‘hey man, you’ve got good stuff. Let’s get it going.’ Or maybe there’s another guy, or the same guy, and you have to go out there and chew him out a little bit to get them going; light a little fire under them. Each guy is different on a given day.”
Now as anyone who has been in a serious relationship knows, they can be a lot of work. You have to make an effort every day. What for some might seem laborious is actually fulfilling for Marjama however. He thrives off the connection.
“Being a catcher is more rewarding than anything,” said Marjama. “I think it’s the most rewarding position there is in any sport. You get to deal with so many different guys, and you have to deal with their day-to-day differences; whether they’re happy, sad, maybe they’re fired up one day, maybe they’re tired one day because something happened. All those things come into play and you need to be able to get together with each one of them. Maybe it’s just when you walk in the clubhouse you spend some time with them. You can go grab a drink with them; go grab some dinner. You get to know them on a personal level.”
It’s that personal level, getting to know who someone is below the surface that Marjama loves, and he seems to be pretty good at it too.
“I think (I’m good at relationships). You know I’m charismatic and good-looking,” joked Marjama. “Relationships are everything in life. How do you not want to be the guy that everyone wants to be around? You want people to feel loved, and you want to have a genuine influence on people that helps them positively. I want to come to the ballpark everyday and have people smile. This sounds kind of like a Tim Tebow thing, but you want people to smile. You want people to have fun.”
That natural charisma and love of social connection is something Marjama was brought up with. Growing up in Granite Bay, California, Marjama was raised in a tight-knit family that stressed togetherness and faith.
It was those strong relationships that helped Marjama deal with his perfectionist mindset that led to a publicized struggle with anorexia in high school. Recovering from his battle cost Marjama his junior year of baseball, and brought into question whether or not his career on the field would continue.
“In high school I didn’t get recruited by anybody,” said Marjama. “I mean, junior colleges didn’t even really want me.”
Sacramento City College finally took a flyer on the then third baseman, and after redshirting his freshman year Marjama turned himself into a two-time All-Conference selection. That led to a transfer to perennial baseball powerhouse Longbeach State, where Marjama played well enough to be selected in the 23rd round of the 2011 Draft by the Chicago White Sox.
Finally in pro ball, Marjama career didn’t exactly soar from the start however.
“I’ve had plenty of people say ‘look I wrote you off early in your career. I didn’t think you were a very good player, but we’re happy to be proven wrong,’” said Marjama.
What led to the change of evaluators’ hearts was a change in position, with Marjama shifting from primarily third and first base to his now familiar catching role. That transition began in earnest last season in Marjama’s second year in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization following a 2015 trade from Chicago.
Marjama’s personality was a natural fit for catching, with his affinity for connections and relationships as well as his perfectionist need to prepare and study leading to almost immediate success. A solid season in Double-A Montgomery last year turned into to a surprise opportunity with the Bulls this season; an opportunity that Marjama is quick to attribute to his relationship with those around him.
“I can’t thank our catching coordinator Paul Hoover, Craig Albernaz here enough for helping me,” said Marjama. “Even (fellow Bulls’ catchers) Mike McKenry and Curt Casali and all these guys really helping to develop me as a catcher not only physically but mentally has taken my game to a different level.”
Now the Bulls’ relationship guru guides the International League’s best pitching staff with the poise and insight of a lifelong catcher. At the plate, he reminds himself of two of his most important relationships, his faith and his family, by drawing a cross and a smiley face in the dirt prior to each at-bat. The other important connection is never far from his mind either, with Marjama always thinking about his pitchers when he puts on his gear.
“You want that relationship where guys want to throw to you and want you to be there,” said Marjama. “This is their career, and who they’re throwing to effects them. For them to want to throw to you and have you be a part of their numbers is more of a complement than anything.”