Skip to main content

To Marders, Diamond Is Forever

Sep 13, 2021

Back when Sam Marder and her younger brother, Jack, were breaking into the coaching ranks, the idea of working together was fodder for jokes around the family dinner table.

Sam, a three-time all-American in softball for Ohio State from 2007-10, told Jack she looked forward to hiring him as an assistant once she became a head coach. Sounds great, would come the reply from Jack – who played baseball at Oregon in 2010 and 2011 – except that I'll be the one hiring you for my own staff.

For now, that remains a dream for the Marders. But while they're not yet on the exact same staff, as of this summer they're coaches in the same athletic department after Sam was named a softball assistant at Oregon, where Jack is on the UO baseball staff.

"I honestly never thought it was a huge likelihood; they're just great jobs, and it's such a rarity those jobs are gonna be open," said Sam, who joined Melyssa Lombardi's staff with the Ducks after helping lead Oklahoma to this year's Women's College World Series title.

"It's just so unlikely. So many things have to work out. So for this to be a possibility, it's still crazy to me."

Sam and Jack grew up with their younger sister in a baseball-crazy household in southern California. After starring at Ohio State, Sam played professionally before transitioning into the coaching ranks. Jack was taken in the 16th round of the 2011 MLB draft after two seasons at Oregon, and progressed to Double-A before concussions ended his playing career.

Jack, deeply cerebral as a player, always figured he'd go into coaching. Sam, a gregarious type who lived and breathed the diamond sports, pursued coaching to continue stoking her passion after wrapping up her playing career. Their paths now have intersected in Eugene.

One of the reasons the Marders anticipated working together some day is how well they complement each other. Jack, whose intense intellect comes across in his deeply serious demeanor, joked that "when people meet Sam, with her personality, they're gonna be like, 'Oh my gosh, she's way cooler than Jack; how are they related?' "

Sam, in turn, calls Jack "one of the smartest people you're ever gonna meet. I would like to consider myself a relaxed, funny person. He is too, but Jack is definitely – as a player and a coach – it's hard to keep up with his intelligence. He's just incredibly smart and very analytical. I had to figure it out in other ways."

Recently their mother, Ricki, moved to Bend. She can't wait to make regular treks over the Cascade Mountains to see her kids coach the Ducks – on their respective staffs but also collaboratively, trading notes on how to get the most out of their teams.

"They both respect each other so much, and they both contribute so much," Ricki said. "It's a pretty unique situation, and I think they'll take full advantage."

"As common as air"

When Sam and Jack were growing up, the game of baseball was "as common as air in our lives," Ricki said.

Ricki's father played minor-league baseball. Sam and Jack's father, David, played in high school before injuries derailed his career, and the kids had an uncle who played at UCLA.

"We always had a game on," David said. "And it wasn't just me – Ricki as much or more."

Sam and Jack "were watching SportsCenter together from birth," Sam said of the siblings, who are separated by less than two years. "I think my dad taught us to catch and throw before he taught us to walk."

David might have taught them how to throw and catch a ball. But hitting? Those lessons came from Major League ballplayers.

See, Jack was one of those kids who didn't just watch hitters, he had to mimic their every move. By the age of 4, Sam recalls, Jack could emulate pretty much any big-league swing he had ever seen. Apparently she showed a similar knack, according to their father.

"They're both very visual people, and they'd visualize how to do it," David said. "And then I'd see it show up on the field."

Sam began her career on the diamond in baseball. For a few years, Sam and Jack even played together, the younger brother positioned away from trouble in the outfield, big sister in the middle of the action.

"I'd be in right field, diving for a ball that was hit to the shortstop," Jack said, "and she'd be the one actually playing shortstop, making all the plays."

Raw ability could only take the Marders so far, they soon discovered. If they were going to continue stoking their passion on the diamond, work ethic and intellect would have to provide an edge.

"They were both pretty undersized growing up," Ricki said. "As a result, they had to work harder. They had to prove themselves more. And we encouraged that, because we knew that would serve them."

Having transitioned to softball, Sam took off for Ohio State, where she was a fearsome power hitter. After entering the pro ranks, she hit a cool .403 in 2011 before being named Louisville Slugger Offense Player of the Year for 2012 in National Pro Fastpitch.

Jack, meanwhile, enrolled at Oregon; he doesn't recall when exactly his desire to enter the coaching ranks began, but he's sure playing for then-UO coach George Horton was, if nothing else, a subconscious choice to learn from one of the sport's all-time greats. Jack officially entered the coaching ranks as an undergraduate assistant for the Ducks under Horton in 2015, and he returned to the staff as an assistant to new coach Mark Wasikowski in 2020.

"I'm her No. 1 fan, and she's mine"

Jack's second season back at Oregon was defined by what almost was.

In the spring of 2021, the Ducks came up a game short of tying for the program's first conference title of any sort since 1974. Then, the team came up a game short of advancing through an NCAA regional for just the second time since 1954.

A day after the Ducks were eliminated from regionals, Marder was back in his office – "in the fetal position," he said. Wasikowski saw the devastation in his assistant's eyes, and wondered if there might be somewhere else Jack could go to get his mind off the defeat.

"Well," Jack said, "my sister's in Oklahoma City …"

Sam had begun her coaching career as an assistant at Boise State, moving to the College of Charleston and then Texas Tech. For this past season, she pitched legendary Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso on the idea of a new staff position devoted to analytics – modeled after a position Oregon baseball had created in recent years for program alum Brett Thomas.

Thus did Sam find herself with the Sooners in Oklahoma City this spring, competing for a national championship. Jack wanted to be there to cheer her on, he told Wasikowski. But he feared he'd just be a downer, still wallowing in his own disappointment.

"And I remember him looking at me and going, 'This is not about you,' " Jack recalled. "This is about you supporting your sister, and being a good brother."

And so, Jack was off to Oklahoma City. Everyone but Sam knew of his plans, setting the stage for a dramatic surprise as she was preparing for the WCWS championship series with the Sooners. With Sam and Jack pursuing their coaching careers, and their younger sister off in New York chasing a career as a dancer, it wasn't often the family had a chance for a reunion.

"To have it be at the World Series, to have it be for the national championship, and then to win?" Ricki said. "I don't know that we're ever going to have an experience like that – until Jack is coaching in one. We recognized how rare and special it was."

The Sooners took the hard route to a national title, losing their first game of the World Series. They rallied to win four in a row and make the championship series, then dropped the opening game of that best-of-three against Florida State.

Marder and the UO baseball team were eliminated from regionals on June 7. He made it to Oklahoma City in time for the winner-take-all third game of the championship series on June 10.

In that winner-take-all game, Oklahoma beat Florida State, 5-1. Sam's decision to leave Texas Tech for the new position with the Sooners had been validated. And the Marders had a national championship to celebrate together.

"All the teams they played on growing up, they were always really good teams – but they never played for the best team," recalled their father, David. "This was the family's first championship. So it was great."

Sam and Jack had been shoulder to shoulder prior to the finale, hoping to bring a championship to the family name. Now they get a chance to do so as Ducks, collaborating and competing with each other for the next Marder national title.

"I can't wait to bounce things off of him here at Oregon," Sam said. "Because he's definitely the most talented coach in the family."

"Now it's a race here," Jack said, "of who's the hitting coach whose team has the best numbers at the end of the year, and who's going to make it to the World Series. And I say that jokingly, because I'm her No. 1 fan. And she's mine."