Elliot Ness heard about Josh Marquard long before he ever saw him.
While a lot of things that are said about young baseball players can be exaggerated, Marquard has lived up to his modest hype so far.
At just 13 years of age, the young Pleasureville Post 799 standout has done nothing so far this summer to dampen any expectations that his American Legion coach had for him.
“He’s beyond his years with his baseball IQ,” Ness said after watching Marquard pick up a complete-game victory on the mound while also driving in the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh in a key 2-1 triumph over Stewartstown Wednesday.
“I’ve been hearing about him for years from other people that have played with and against him and I’ve been nothing but impressed so far,” Ness said.
Ness, who led Post 799 to the York-Adams American Legion playoff title and a berth into the Region 4 playoffs a season ago, marveled at how well Marquard has adapted to playing at a higher level. He's helped Pleasureville to an 8-1-1 record this season, which puts Post 799 on top of the York-Adams American Legion East Division standings.
“Having some young kids like Josh gives us a chance to see what they might be able to do and see how they perform,” said Ness, who is also an assistant coach for the Central York varsity baseball team. “And us coaches on the varsity team didn’t really get to see a lot of the JV guys this year. But Josh wasn’t even on JV.”
Excelling vs. older players: It is pretty rare for a player who has not even attended high school yet to not only play, but excel, at a level that features teammates and opponents who are five or even six years older.
Circumstances played a role in things. Ness didn’t really have a full roster, so adding a young kid such as Marquard wasn’t going to throw the lineup out of whack. So Ness didn’t see any harm in welcoming him into the fold.
“It’s not often that you see a kid that young up here,” Ness said. “Usually they would still be playing either travel ball or with the Junior Legion team. I’ve coached his brother (Nathan) since he was 8 years old and Josh was at our practices when he was 4 or 5. So I asked his dad if (Josh) was going to play Junior Legion and his dad said no. So I said, ‘look, have him come out and see if he can play for us.'”
Knows the game: Ness pointed to an at-bat in Wednesday’s contest as testament to just how smart Marquard is in a baseball sense.
“They had a guy on first and it was an obvious bunting situation,” Ness said. “And Josh knew that, so he threw a high fastball and the kid fouled it off. No one had to tell him to do that, he just knew what he had to do.”
Wednesday’s performance — seven innings of seven-hit ball with eight strikeouts in addition to two hits and a walk at the plate — isn’t something that Ness will expect out of his budding standout on a night-in, night-out basis. But he does know that he probably won’t get too many poor performances, either. In three appearances this season, Marquard has a 0.54 ERA over 13 innings, allowing just a single earned run while striking out 15.
“He’s been great so far,” Ness said. “His pitching … he throws a lot of strikes and not a lot of balls, which is good. He tries to pitch to contact, but he still has a fair amount of strikeouts. He can throw three pitches for strikes and he’s always around the strike zone. And if you can do that, you have something.”
Room to grow: That "something" at the moment may very well pale in comparison to what may be around the corner.
“He’s still got room to grow,” Ness said. “His brother is 6-3 and he’s going to continue to grow. And when he gets bigger and stronger, look out. I mean he has a good fastball right now and I imagine that when he gets older he’s going to throw even harder than he does now.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.