Argonaut spoils Bret Harte’s MLL opener, visit from Mr. October

Written by Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat March 21, 2013 06:07 pm

Former baseball great Reggie Jackson (right) sat in the Bret Harte dugout Tuesday during the Bullfrog’s Mother Lode League opener against Argonaut in Angels Camp. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat
Friends and family say Alex Marshall would have been “thrilled” with Bret Harte’s baseball home-opener Wednesday, no matter the outcome on the scoreboard.

Bret Harte fell to Argonaut 15-0 in six innings in what was the first game of the Mother Lode League season for both teams, but Marshall’s mother, Sean “Seanie” Plummer, said her fallen Bullfrog would have just been happy to be on the squad.

“I’m just so proud of both teams for getting out there,” Plummer said. “I used to tell my son it’s not about losing or winning a game, it’s about participating in the game.”

Argonaut’s Matthew Huss stole the show. He struck out 11 Bullfrogs in five innings on the mound and blasted two 2-run homers that kept the momentum in Argonaut’s favor.

“Huss was great as a sophomore last year and he’s gotten better to be quite honest,” said Bret Harte head coach Zack Abernathy.

The special event that coincided with the game, dubbed “Play It Forward”, was personally organized by Plummer and included raffles, food and a special appearance by baseball legend Reggie Jackson, a 14-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion who played for the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees during the ‘70s.

Plummer put together the unique event in an effort to raise money for Bret Harte High out of appreciation for the community that rallied to support her following the deaths of two of her children.

Alex, 17, and his sister, Macaila Marshall, 14, were killed by their father, Philip Marshall, 54, sometime around Jan. 31 at their Murphys home. Authorities say Marshall shot both his children before turning the gun on himself.

Their untimely deaths shocked and saddened students and faculty at Bret Harte High, where the Marshalls attended. Several events including a memorial at the school were organized in the wake of the shootings, with Wednesday’s event serving as another tribute to the deceased teens.

Alex Marshall played football and junior varsity baseball for the Bullfrogs before his death and was preparing for the move to varsity this spring. His teammates have been hanging his No. 15 jersey in their dugout at every game this season.

“He was always positive, smiling and having fun,” said Bret Harte head coach Zack Abernathy. “He’s missed and it’s in a bad way.”

Jackson, who flew in from Tampa, Fla., just for the game, spoke to those in attendance before the first pitch and addressed the community’s response to Alex’s and Macaila’s murders.

“It’s a small town, but everyone from here I’ve spoken with talks about how wonderful it is to be here, how much everyone supports each other and how much everyone sticks together,” Jackson said. “I can certainly feel that, and I want to thank you for your attendance and for supporting my dear friend Seanie at this time.”

Plummer and Jackson have been friends for 33 years. He is the godfather of her 32-year-old daughter, Cortnie Alter. 

Jackson said during an interview after his speech that he had not seen Plummer in seven or eight years and became aware of Alex and Macaila’s deaths when a mutual friend directed him to newspaper articles on the Internet. 

“I didn’t know what to do and had no answers,” Jackson said of his reaction to reading about the incident. “You’re hollow ... You feel like there’s nowhere to go.”

Jackson said he met Alex and Macaila a number of years ago, but never had the chance to get to know them very well. He later reached out to his longtime friend and accepted her request to attend Wednesday’s event in a show of support.

“You just have to open your arms and be there,” he said. “I’m trying to touch base with her now at least once-a-week, and I will forever.”

Jackson threw out the game’s first pitch and then spoke to players from both teams about the importance of sportsmanship and giving their best effort on the field. He stayed in Bret Harte’s dugout for most of the game, where he wore Alex’s jersey and cheered on the Bullfrogs.

In the fifth inning, with Bret Harte down 9-0, Jackson came out and served as interim third base coach to fire up both the team and home crowd.

“I’ve got nothing but good to say about Mr. Jackson and I appreciate the sacrifices he made to be out here and celebrate some very special people with us,” Abernathy said. “I know the kids would have wanted to have shown their abilities a little better, but that’s a learning experience.”

Bullfrog players said they won’t soon forget the day they shared their dugout with a baseball icon.

“He was just there being a good coach and talked to us about baseball,” said Bret Harte right hander Jacob Bailey. “It’s one of those things you will always remember.”

Bailey had been friends with Alex Marshall since the seventh grade and said Wednesday’s event at the Bullfrogs’ home-opener was a fitting tribute.

“It’s great because people won’t forget about him,” Bailey said. “We’ll always remember Alex through events like this.”

“Alex and Macaila would be really happy with this,” said Bullfrog Wyatt Hockett, another close friend of Alex Marshall’s. Hockett also caught the first pitch thrown by Jackson, who he described as “a really cool guy.”

A couple hundred spectators were drawn to the varsity field at Bret Harte High for the game and activities surrounding it, including the raffles that featured donated items ranging from paddle boards to make-up bags, all said to be worth a combined $20,000.

A final tally on the amount of money raised had yet to be completed Wednesday evening.

Leadership students from both Bret Harte and Argonaut helped with preparations, selling concessions and cleanup. 

Abernathy, who helped train Alex in the offseason, said he thought the fallen Bret Harte slugger was probably “smiling down” Wednesday despite the loss.

“Even though I’m sure the result is not what he would have hoped for as far as the game, watching the community come out and watching all the little kids with their families would have meant the world to him,” said Abernathy.

“Anytime you do an event focused on kids, communities and families — and you actually get them out there — that’s a success,” he added. “I just wish we could have upheld our end of the bargain and had a competitive game, but sometimes that’s what happens and it just shows we have work to do.”

The Bullfrogs (2-5, 0-1 MLL) are looking to get back in the win column when they host the Summerville Bears at 4 p.m., Friday.