A native of Dracut, Massachusetts who played his college ball at UMass-Lowell, Marc Deschenes was obtained by the Red Sox as a free agent in July of 2004. Currently in the closer’s role in Portland, the 32-year-old Deschenes was originally taken in the 20th round of the 1995 draft by the Cleveland Indians. A righthanded pitcher, Deschenes is 3-1, 3.00 with 8 saves and has 42 strikeouts in 30 innings for the AA Sea Dogs. We talked to Marc about growing up a Red Sox fan, his baseball academy, and the right way to play the game.
RSN: You were drafted by the Indians out of UMass-Lowell as a shortstop. What went into the decision to make you a pitcher, and how much experience did you have on the mound at that time?
MD: The Indians drafted me after my junior year, and I had pitched that season when I wasn’t playing short. I had only thrown a handful of innings my freshman and sophomore years — maybe six — but the team asked if I could pitch more that season. Obviously you’ll do anything to help the club, so I ended up logging 79 innings when I wasn’t at shortstop. The Indians didn’t mention pitching when they took me, but interestingly, the Royals did. Had I lasted another round, they were possibly going to take me as a pitcher.
RSN: When did the Indians decide to put you on the mound?
MD: It was about three weeks into the following spring training. After I was drafted, I played shortstop that season in the NY-Penn League. But then the next spring, Mark Shapiro, the Indians GM, approached me and said the organization felt I had more potential as a pitcher. I guess they saw me throwing it 90 mph across the diamond and were more impressed with that than they were with my bat. So I ended up spending three weeks in Extended Spring Training working off the mound, and then they sent me to the South Atlantic League as a pitcher.
RSN: Frank Rodriquez, a top prospect with the Red Sox around the same time, also ended up on the mound instead of at shortstop. Although he pitched in the big leagues, he didn’t fulfill his potential and many feel he’d have been better served playing short. Do you ever wonder what might have happened had you remained a shortstop?
MD: It’s funny that you mention that, and it’s hard to say. My passion was getting dirty every day at shortstop, and my fantasy was to play there at Fenway Park. But in reality, my bat probably wasn’t good enough. My glove and arm may have been, but my bat didn’t look like it would be Major League quality. It was a hard decision, because I loved playing short, but it was probably the right choice.
RSN: You’ve made it as high as AAA, pitching parts of 2001 and 2002 at that level. How did you find yourself playing in an independent league by the end of 2002, and was it injury-related?
MD: No, I’ve actually been injury-free my whole career. I think it was a simple case of not enough need at the time. I started the year as the closer in AA with the Pirates, and did well. The Cubs traded for me and sent me to AAA, but then ended up releasing me when they had to open up a roster spot for Mark Prior. I had workouts with a few teams, including the Sox, but nothing came out of them. I wanted to keep playing, so I hooked up with Nashua in the Atlantic League. It just wasn’t the same in independent league ball, though. I pitched there for the rest of the season, but my heart wasn’t into it, so I decided not to come back in 2003. But it was a long summer — I had no idea how much I’d miss playing — so in 2004 I decided to go back to Nashua and try to resurrect my career. I pitched well there, and in July the Sox signed me and sent me to Portland.
RSN: You’re on a staff with some great arms right now. How does it compare to others you’ve been on in your 10 years of pro ball?
MD: I’ll tell you, it’s unbelievable. It’s probably the best starting staff I’ve seen in the minors. Those guys have a real good idea out there, and their ability to focus and go the extra mile is what makes them special. Pitching is a lot about command and not being afraid, and it’s hard to rattle any of them. There’s some big league talent there.
RSN: How about yourself? What do you bring to the mound?
MD: Competitiveness and fastballs. I’m aggressive, and I’ll throw my best at you. 90% fastballs is my mentality.
RSN: How would you describe your fastball?
MD: I throw mostly 4-seamers, and while I sit around 90-92, I’ve topped out at 95 this year. Location is the important thing. I locate in-and-out, up-and-down; change the hitter’s eye level. I throw a split and a slider, too, but I’m mostly challenging hitters.
RSN: Has your repertoire or approach evolved over the years?
MD: I’ve changed my slider and split grips a little, trying to get different wrinkles. But the only real difference is that I’m smarter now. I’ve learned to see weaknesses better. I have a better understanding of things like when to climb the ladder, and when to pound lefties away when their sweet spot is down and in.
RSN: In roughly 500 innings of pro ball, you’ve committed one balk — in 2001 with Buffalo. Do you remember it, and how have you managed to have just the one in 10 years?
MD: Boy, I don’t remember it. The only way I could explain only having one — and I’d have guessed it was none — is focus. It all comes down to preparation and execution, and I’ve always prided myself in those facets of the game.
RSN: Tell is about growing up a Red Sox fan.
MD: My dad has always been a big fan, as has my grandmother — my mom’s mom. She never misses a game! So I grew up a diehard fan, too. I went to my first game when I was 8 years old. I remember it was against the A’s, and that we had good seats and I brought my glove. I loved infielders like Jody Reed and John Valentin, and emulated them in the backyard. I was just a kid who loved baseball and the Red Sox.
RSN: What was it like watching the Red Sox win last year, and did you think you’d ever live to see it?
MD: It was unreal. I was at all of the home games in the postseason, and watched the others with friends. You know what? After the Yankee series, I believed that we’d win it. Before that, it was hard to imagine. After all these years, you couldn’t help but wonder if it might never happen.
RSN: How did this year’s spring training compare to others you’ve experienced?
MD: It was unbelievable. The whole atmosphere and buzz was amazing. I went to a lot of the big league games while I was in camp, and was lucky enough to be in uniform for a few of them. Just being on the field with guys like Manny, Damon and Tek was an honor.
RSN: You played for Butch Hobson in Nashua. What was that like?
MD: It was great. He’s intense and fiery. His competitiveness is through the roof. He’s similar to Todd Claus in that can’t stand to lose, and he puts his players first. He really took to my mentality as a closer, and I enjoyed playing for him.
RSN: Being from Dracut and having attended UMass-Lowell, have you had a chance to attend many Spinners games?
MD: It’s a great park, but because of my own playing schedule I’ve only had a chance to go to one. Interestingly enough, it was with Ben Cherington in 2003 — the year I wasn’t playing. I think I want to stay in the game after I’m done playing, so I had been looking into the possibility of an internship with the club. Now that I have my baseball academy, it’s hard to say if I’ll be pursuing that or not.
RSN: Tell us about your baseball academy.
MD: It’s in Dracut, and is called the Deschenes Baseball Academy. My partner is Mike Glavine, and we do private lessons, camps, and clinics. Heâ€™s also the coach of one my AAU teams. Along with Chris Hall, whoâ€™s also my agent, I run an AAU team called the Diamond Dawgs. We have 12, 13, and 14-year-old divisions, and the 14-year-olds — thatâ€™s Mikeâ€™s team — qualified for the nationals this year. The other coaches are Derek Favreau, Joey Robarge, and Tommy Klemm. They all do a great job.
RSN: What qualities and instruction do you emphasize to the kids?
MD: The biggest is enjoyment and fun. You have to enjoy the fact that you’re playing. And respecting the game is big. You listen first, and then do your work. We stress that the individual never comes before the team, and there’s a right way to play the game. If you do that, and enjoy yourself, your natural ability will come out.
RSN: Once upon a time you were a kid playing ball in Dracut, and for the past decade you’ve been in pro ball. What has that meant for you and your family?
MD: The support of my family has been integral. It’s hard to do it on your own, and they’ve been behind me when I’ve been up, and when I’ve been down. It can be a tough gig in the minor leagues. I’ve been lucky enough to play near my family for parts of my career, and that’s meant a lot to me. I can’t say enough about that.
RSN: Last one: you were drafted 10 years ago this month. What do you remember from that time of your life?
MD: I had the look of an outstanding opportunity. I put some consideration into a senior year at UMass-Lowell, but the chance to play pro ball was too good to pass up. The excitement level was definitely high. Having scouts come to watch you play really makes your dreams kick in. Everybody has dreams and goals, and you wouldn’t play if you didn’t think you could make it to the top. I still think about it every day. I still hope that I can make it to the Major Leagues and wear a Red Sox uniform.