Big Train Returnees Reflect on Second Summer in Bethesda

By:Julianne Garnett

Summer collegiate baseball is a prime opportunity for college players to refine their craft outside of their demanding school year schedules. In many cases, especially in the Cal Ripken Senior Collegiate Baseball League, players stick with a team for one summer before moving on to other organizations or endeavors. As a result, summer ball team cultures are often fluid and ever-changing, based on who’s on the roster and when. 


But for four 2023 Big Train players, the benefits of a second go-around with a well-established organization like Bethesda were too valuable to pass up.


Evan Marcinko, Jason Schiavone, Brandon Clarke, and Clay Wargo, members of the Big Train’s 2022 roster, all decided to come back as part of the Green and White’s 2023 squad. Each player had their individual reasons, but mostly, they loved their experiences last summer and were all more than eager to run it back. 


“Playing for Bethesda last year was for sure the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball,” said Marcinko, a left-handed pitcher. “Getting to play under [Coach Sal Colangelo], just relax, have fun with the game, playing for the kids. It was just such a blast!” 


Wargo echoed this sentiment exactly, describing the Big Train’s operation as “pure baseball.” “I'm super excited to play again,” noted the catcher. “We get a lot of swings…and to have fun with the boys. Plus, we [have] a really good team. Just like last year, I get to catch a lot of really good pitchers.” 


Wargo catching in June 17th game against the Southern Maryland Senators. 


Much of their positive recollections stemmed back to the unwavering support of the Big Train coaching staff, specifically manager Sal Colangelo. 


“Last year was just an incredible year for me,” said Schiavone. “A lot of growth, development from Sal, Coach [Galvin Morris], and Coach [Craig Lopez]. Coach Sal always wants what's best for me, and I love that about him. The amount that you learn here and the amount that you [experience] here is unimaginable. So it was pretty hard not to come back.” 


Clarke was in dialogue with Coach Colangelo throughout his sophomore year at the State College of Florida. The left-handed ace was initially undecided when Colangelo first offered him a 2023 roster spot—but not for long. 


“A couple months back, I called Sal and told him, ‘man, I'd love to come back,’” explained Clarke. “They treated me really well last year, and [my] relationship with Sal has been really tight. I know what I'm getting, I know who I'm gonna be around. Great coaching staff, a great opportunity, good league, good competition and opportunity to start pretty much every week, which is going to be really big for me.”  


Clarke was out for most of the season due to a shoulder injury, so playing summer ball in Bethesda is a “great opportunity” to get more reps in before he begins his junior year. 


Clarke pitching in June 17th game against the Southern Maryland Senators. 


The other returning pitcher Marcinko also dealt with health complications that kept him off the mound at UNC Wilmington in 2022. “I suffered a hernia right at the beginning of the season,” said the left-hander. “I went and got surgery, tried to come back from surgery, and I just wasn't the same for a while. This summer will be good for me to get back in the swing of things, get some eyes on me and get back pitching again.” 


The catchers, on the other hand, both had solid sophomore campaigns at their respective schools. Wargo was a major contributor behind the plate this season at Louisiana Lafayette, catching the final strike in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ April 19 upset over then-No. 1 LSU. Up in Harrisonburg, Schiavone played 40 games for James Madison, finishing with 16 hits, 13 runs scored, nine RBIs, and 18 walks, along with a nearly perfect .996 fielding percentage. 


Despite his positive year in Louisiana, Wargo expressed how happy he is to get back to the freedom of summer ball. “College is truly like a job. I feel like baseball is [only] half of it,” said Wargo. “I guess that's why I like summer ball so much.” 


Schiavone in a June 5th game against the Metro SOCO Braves.


The returning players outlined specific skills they hope to work on this summer, whether that’s getting ahead of batters for Clarke, offensive consistency for Schiavone, or explosiveness and smaller adjustments for Wargo. Above all, these players want to rack up Big Train wins. 


“Win. I'm here to win. There's nothing else about it,” said Marcinko. “You win at each level, you keep leveling up, that’s how I view it.”


And this winning mindset manifests in the players’ various approaches, especially in comparison to last summer. With the 2022 championship loss to the Alexandria Aces still fresh in their minds, the returnees hope to make the most of their two months with the Big Train. They all described a loose, team-oriented mentality guiding their on-field actions. 


“[Being] able to turn the page pretty quick[ly],” said Clarke. “Focusing on honestly having fun, enjoying the moment, and just rolling through and being intentional with everything.”


“The more team stuff you put in, the more you get out of your own personal goals,” added Schiavone. 


Marcinko summed up this more mature approach shared by the returnees. “After playing here for a summer, I’ve kind of realized that…Sal wouldn’t have you here if you weren’t good enough to go out. So really just trusting that, whatever situation I get put into out there, I know I [have] seven guys behind me…and I know that I can succeed.” 


Marcinko pitching in June 15th game against the Alexandria Aces. 


As de facto leaders familiar with the coaching staff and the overall Big Train organization, the juniors hope to serve as role models for their teammates. All four returnees recognize the power of positive feedback in the daily grind of baseball, which is why they seek to be upbeat and encouraging presences in the team. 


“I try to be a spark plug,” said Marcinko. “You know, a lot of guys don't want to roll out of bed. They're lifting…they're tired when they get to the field, and I just try to be as upbeat as I can. You know, talkative, high energy. It shows these guys that, ‘hey, we're here to have fun.’”


“Obviously, it's all about the kind of personality you have,” said Wargo. “I like to be a ‘team’ guy, not a ‘me’ guy, and I think I [can] bring a good positive energy that helps people out.” 


Clarke and Wargo conversing on the mound. 


Schiavone highlighted the importance of communication in maintaining a successful team culture. 


“I know Sal well enough where I can communicate if he tells us to do something and people don't understand. I can kind of help them out [to translate], like, ‘hey, like this is what he means we need to do,’ [which can also] help them improve.” 


Not only is this leadership reserved to on-field performance, Marcinko also highlighted extending his leadership to off-the-field composure, something he believes to be an extremely enriching part of the Big Train experience. 


“You know, a lot of [these guys] haven't played much in college, especially on the Power Five level. There’s going to be a lot of fans, a lot of people who are watching,” said Marcinko. “I need to be a leader, I need to be able to step up to show these guys how we're supposed to go about our business, what's expected of us, and then really how to handle ourselves in terms of the public eye: how to deal with the kids [at the ballpark], how to deal with adversity, how to deal with losses, how to deal with winning. Just really focusing on how to carry ourselves, how to really be a professional.”


Schiavone and Marcinko chatting in the dugout. 


The 2023 returning players expressed great excitement about their upcoming season with the Big Train. They all look forward to the team reaching peak synergy and are optimistic about making it back to the championship game to challenge for the 2023 league title. 


“Off the field and on the field, they’re all really good guys, I love them all,” said Schiavone. “They're really talented too. We have a really good team this year. And offensively, I was kind of shocked, we can really put some runs on the table.”


Marcinko capped off his appreciation for the Bethesda Big Train with a conclusionary message about the organization: “Anyone who’s reading this, this is a place where you want to come play baseball. I can promise that, with Coach Sal here at the Big Train, you’re not only going to develop, you’re going to thrive, you’re going to win—that’s what we do here. Coming here and knowing that I’m going to progress, not only as a baseball player, but as a human and a role model.”


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