Mike Marshall was 21 years old when, for a brief summer, he made New Mexico his home.
It was 1981 and he was the best ballplayer on one of the best minor league teams in history. He was one of the Dukes of Albuquerque, batting .373 with 37 home runs and 137 RBIs in 128 games for a team that won 94 of 132 regular-season games and scored 875 runs. He is the last man to win the Pacific Coast League’s Triple Crown – and the whole experience is a blur.
“You don’t care about stats. It’s so much fun as a unit, as a team. You don’t want to let anyone down, let down your manager, your fans, your teammates. I remember the whole season just being a blur.”
Marshall went on to other successes in baseball, including helping the Los Angeles Dodgers win the 1988 World Series.
And yet – as his good friend New Mexico Highlands baseball coach Shannon Hunt points out – Marshall probably has a bigger name in Albuquerque than in Los Angeles.
So perhaps that’s part of the reason Marshall is living in New Mexico again, partly why he accepted Hunt’s offer to be his baseball associate head coach.
But mostly it has to do with friendship, something not always easy to hold on to.
Mike Marshall and Shannon Hunt first crossed paths in El Paso in 2005. Marshall was managing the independent Diablos and Hunt was coaching El Paso Community College. Marshall held a camp and reached out to Hunt for help.
“We kind of hit it off,” Hunt says. “We came from the same pedigree, knew a lot of the same people. We were speaking the same language. We had a lot of fun. It was like we were brothers.”
Says Marshall: “We’re baseball guys. We knew a lot of the same people. We finish each other’s sentences and thoughts. … Other than he’s a hunter, we’re the same person.”
When Marshall developed a disagreement with the Diablos owners and got fired, Hunt offered him a job. A few years later, Marshall became involved with the Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums of the Frontier League and he brought Hunt aboard as hitting coach.
“I spent four years up there,” Hunt said. “We were blessed with good players, and we had a lot of fun.”
But Hunt, who had been an assistant at Highlands before his El Paso stint, returned to Las Vegas, N.M., in 2013 to be Steve Jones’ associate head coach. When Jones left for another job earlier this year, Hunt was promoted.
NMHU athletic director Jeff Falkner asked Hunt what he needed.
“The first thing I want to do is hire Mike Marshall,” Hunt told him.
Falkner, a Dodgers fan, loved the idea.
And so did Marshall.
“I’m almost better suited for the college game,” Marshall says.
Marshall had signed with the Dodgers out of Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School in 1978 and missed the college experience. He and his wife, Mary, made sure their two kids pursued their education – and both are now Stanford graduates.
Marshall can tell a recruit and his parents, that, yes, he wants them to have a chance to play pro ball. Yes, he will give them all the knowledge he has in that regard.
“But education is No. 1,” Marshall says. “That’s the most important thing. And I can back that up with what I did with my kids. I’m not going to work hard for these kids if they don’t go to class. Baseball is fleeting. Education is important. I’m not going to let them waste that.”
Hunt says Marshall brings so much to the Cowboys’ table.
“He has a very successful name in the sport of baseball,” Hunt says. “For him to come to a place like this enhances everything. It’s good for the university, the community, the kids who are playing here. … It’s a good marriage.”
Marshall says: “The first three or four days here, I’m very impressed – with the way the school looks at athletics and the academic side. But it didn’t matter where Shannon was. … I’ve been in pro ball for so long. I need to learn from somebody who has handled younger guys. It will be great to learn from him.
“I’m blessed. I’m back in New Mexico.”