Diamond visions

When an athlete retires from a 10-year Major League Baseball career, things are supposed to slow down. There are no cross-country road trips and the body no longer needs ice packs to heal from the grind of a 162-game schedule.

But South Philly native John Marzano, originally of 11th and Wharton streets, remains on the active roster as a Philadelphia Phillies analyst for Comcast SportsNet. It doesn’t get much more exciting than the team being in the thick of the National League Wild Card chase, heading into the final week of the season.

"There is a part of me that’s still Johnny Marz from South Philly," he said during a phone interview. "I was on Broad Street in 1980 when the Phillies won the World Series" as a fan.

"As an analyst you have to separate yourself from being a fan. I still want to see the team succeed and do well."

If the Phillies make it — and that’s a very big if — it will be their first trip to the postseason since 1993 when they lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series.

THE IRONY IS, when Marzano, now 42, retired in 2000, he never expected to be in front of a TV camera. Good friend and fellow South Philadelphia resident Steve Koplove suggested Marzano return to his roots and teach baseball. Along with wife Teri, a South Philly High grad, and their two daughters, the family moved from their off-season home in Arizona to South Jersey. In 2001, he opened the Marzano Baseball Academy in South Philadelphia with three kids in attendance. Now, he said, November and December are the busiest months with up to 50 participants seeking lessons.

Comcast SportsNet visited the academy for a story in its early years and someone noticed Marzano’s potential in front of the camera.

"The guy asked me if I would like to do some post-game stuff," Marzano said. "I gave it a shot and I was a nervous wreck. It was a lot tougher than I thought, but I decided that I would just try and get better."

The former catcher, who played for the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners, as well as the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, knew the game, but he wanted to improve his delivery. In his first year at Comcast, anchors Ron Burke, Matt Yallof and Michael Barkaan gave him some pointers. After sharing screen time with analysts Joe Kerrigan and Rico Brogna during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, Marzano became the lone "Phillies Post Game Live" analyst in 2004.

But don’t expect to see him hanging out at the ballpark on game day. He usually watches batting practice and gets some insights from the players before games, but, by the time the first pitch is thrown, he is back at the Comcast SportsNet studio in the Wachovia Center.

"When I am watching every pitch I can’t have people talking to me and taking me away from thinking about the game," he said.

When the sixth or seventh comes around, he usually starts discussing with that day’s anchor what plays should be highlighted on the show, including the "Drive of the Game."

Marzano is occasionally heard on 610 WIP-AM filling in for hosts Angelo Caltaldi or Anthony Gargano and also calls in regularly to talk baseball.

"I am hoping it turns into a regular gig on WIP because I like having the opportunity to talk about the Eagles, Sixers, Phillies and Flyers," Marzano said.

No matter what the Phillies’ fate, Marzano will remain close to the sport during the winter by working with players age 8 to adult at the John Marzano Baseball Academy, 825 N. American St., in Northern Liberties. The 1998 Temple Sports Hall of Fame inductee said he welcomes players of all levels.

"I want to take a kid who has never played before and make him love the game," Marzano said. "I want to show him how to hit, how to throw, work on balance and how to become an athlete. You have to be patient with kids."

The same mentality applies while watching a Phillies game with Friday’s 11-10 win over the Cincinnati Reds a perfect example. The Phillies trailed 10-6 in the top of the ninth, but pulled out a victory in the top of that inning thanks to a three-run homer from Chase Utley and the game-winning two-run homer by David Bell.

The analyst in Marzano said it’s the young players, like Utley and Rookie of the Year candidate Ryan Howard, that have sparked new life into the club.

Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like the Phillies will once again fall short of their post-season aspirations. They opened the week a game behind the Houston Astros in the National League Wild Card standings and had a chance to move within a half game with a win on Monday. Instead, the Phillies blew a 5-2 lead in the eighth, losing 6-5. Things didn’t get any better following Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss, where the Phillies left 11 runners on base.

Those two losses combined with an Astros win Tuesday pushed the Phillies 2.5 back in the standings with four games left.

Do the Phils have what it takes to make the cut?

"It’s so hard to gain that many games in that short a period of time," Marzano said.

For more information on John Marzano or the Marzano Baseball Academy, visit www.marzanobaseball.com or call 856-963-0670.