Outside of their clubhouse ping-pong tournament, which is in full swing, the idle banter among Marlins players and staffers involves the NCAA Tournament.
Like every other major0league clubhouse, the Marlins are all about brackets and picking winners. A number of Marlins attended colleges playing in the NCAA and are going rah-rah over the Big Dance.
Here’s a sampling of who is pulling for what:
▪ Pitcher David Phelps went to Notre Dame and, naturally, he’s pulling for the Fighting Irish to raise the championship banner. But he’s not picking them in the clubhouse contest. He only has them going two rounds.
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“I have them into the Sweet 16 against Gonzaga,” Phelps said. “I would love it if they broke my bracket.”
▪ Reliever Nick Wittgren went to Purdue and bleeds Boilermakers.
“I’ve got them winning at all,” Wittgren said. “I have them playing Duke, winning 72-67.”
▪ Shortstop J.T. Riddle went to Kentucky and he has the Big Blue winning another title.
“They’re gonna win it all,” Riddle said.
Riddle said he often attended UK games at Rupp Arena when he was going to school there.
“Now I sit at home and watch them and yell at the TV,” he said.
▪ Reliever Brad Ziegler is a huge, huge Kansas fan. Though he didn’t go to KU, he was born in Kansas and lives not far from Lawrence. He even has a Kansas license plate frame on his car.
So far, Ziegler has filled out only part of his bracket — the part taking Kansas all the way to the national championship.
“I’ve got one line filled out all the way,” Ziegler said of his Kansas line. “That’s the only one I’m sure of doing. I’m obviously picking the ones [seeds] over the 16s.”
Ziegler and his wife attend a lot of KU games during the offseason.
“If we don’t watch them live, we record them and watch the later,” he said.
▪ Hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo played baseball at the University of Miami. When asked who he was picking to win it all, he held up his hands to form a “U.”
“That’s all I’ve got to say,” Pagliarulo said.
▪ Infielder Miguel Rojas is from Venezuela and said he knows nothing about college basketball. But he didn’t know anything about NFL football, either, before winning the team’s Fantasy League title this past winter.
Rojas said he is picking Gonzaga because the name contains a “Z” and ends in an “A,” just like Venezuela, and will be cheering against North Carolina because Marlins coaches Tim Wallach and Lorenzo Bundy are pulling for the Tar Heels.
“I don’t know much about it,” Rojas said. “But I know my positive vibes are going to go to [Gonzaga] and my negative vibes are going to go to North Carolina. I just feel like [Bundy] and [Wallach] always talk about it, and I’m tired of it.”
▪ Second baseman Dee Gordon received a scholarship offer to play basketball at Louisville but turned it down and stuck with baseball. Gordon said he’s not impressed with any of this year’s top tournament teams.
“Brutal,” Gordon said. “Everybody’s brutal. I don’t have faith in anybody in this field. This is a toss-em-up year for basketball.”
▪ Marlins radio announcer Glenn Geffner has never been more interested in the NCAA tournament than he is now. The reason: his alma mater, Northwestern, is making its first-ever tournament appearance.
“It’s a huge deal,” Geffner said.
Geffner is doing the radio call of the Marlins game Wednesday, then flying out immediately afterward for Salt Lake City, where Northwestern faces Vanderbilt in its opening-round game.
“It’s going to be fun,” Geffner said.
Catcher A.J. Ellis is still not fully healed from a left hamstring injury that has caused him to miss most of spring training and will not return to game action until the weekend at the earliest.
But manager Don Mattingly said he is still confident Ellis will be ready by Opening Day.
▪ Wednesday: Marlins LHP Justin Nicolino vs. New York Mets RHP Matt Harvey, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.
▪ Thursday: Off day.