By Max Marcilla
As the Maryland Terrapins began the 2016 Fall World Series, familiar faces from the Terps’ recent years of success—Kevin Martir and Anthony Papio—looked at one another from across the field.
Now student assistant coaches, the two players who had combined to play more than 300 games for the Terps since 2013 found themselves as opposing managers for the annual split-squad scrimmage series, which is tied at one-game apiece.
Martir, who was drafted by the Houston Astros his junior year, returned to College Park, Md., this fall to finish his bachelor’s degree. Papio, who graduated in August of 2015 and played last season as a fifth-year senior, has remained on campus, finishing his graduate degree.
The former catcher expected to just work out with the team and help out, like he did last year. But Szefc approached him for a more official role. As for Papio, the former outfielder and all-time leader in games played knew he wanted to get into coaching once his playing days drew to a close.
“I kidded Papio…, 27 years ago, I did the same thing,” head coach John Szefc said. “I had one semester [at Drexel] I had to finish up, and I went back and coached and it worked for me.”
Szefc, who coached both players during the Terps’ back-to-back Super Regional seasons, who has been at the helm for the entirely of Martir’s Terrapin career and the majority of Papio’s, instilled lessons in his newest assistants.
“The biggest positive of playing under Szefc was that he was the same guy every day,” Papio said. “He stayed pretty cool throughout the whole game—never too high or too low. I think that’s something that both of us have tried to incorporate while we’re out here coaching.”
Martir, who was a vocal leader on the team during his three years, has taken note of the way Szefc communicates with his players.
When I was a player, I’d be able to scream and get on someone,” Martir said. “Now you have to direct the message you’re trying to tell the player in a different way—so that they can understand and not be mad at you or hate you for something you said.”
Martir’s playing experience behind the plate as a catcher—both at Maryland and in the Houston Astros organization he past two seasons—has helped him convey those messages to both position players and pitchers.
Ryan Selmer posted the above picture of him pitching to his new student assistant coach Kevin Martir to Instagram before the start of the Fall World Series.
“Being a catcher, you’re able to do both,” he said. “You can manage a pitching staff and tell guys about different approaches or anything like that. That’s why while I’m coaching, I’m calling a game—because I’ve been there.”
Szefc had complete confidence in his former players to get the job done as student assistant coaches.
“Personality-wise they’re a little different, but they’re also both pretty demanding too,” he said. “I think they both know how things should be done, so they’re not afraid to get the point across. What you have is two guys that are student assistant coaches, but Papio just finished playing, Martir’s still playing. Those guys know the game and they’re not afraid to open up their mouths and coach it.”
While playing under Szefc taught both student assistant coaches vital lessons, managing the Fall World Series has given both Martir and Papio a newfound respect for what their former coaches do on a day-to-day basis.
“The other day I was coaching third and other guys were missing signs,” Martir said. “[Associate head coach] Rob [Vaughn] was like, ‘well, welcome to my world. Guys are missing signs.’”
But as Martir explained, missed signs are just the beginning of the frustrations of being a manager.
“You can’t really control what’s going on—it’s out of our control,” he said. “While I’m back there I’m like, ‘damn, I want to go and put down a bunt’ but I can’t because I’m on the other side. It’s tough on us too because we can’t really do anything about it.”
Both Papio and Martir have had some fun throughout the process of leading their respective teams during the Fall World Series. The dugouts are loud and active during the game, which is no surprise considering each manager’s competitive nature. The antics continue off the field, with players posting pump-up message to Twitter and Instagram, and Martir sending Papio “a couple of emojis.” It’s clear what’s on the line—supreme bragging rights, for both the players and their former teammates turned coaches.
“I think you’ve got probably the two most competitive dudes to come through here in the past five-to-10 years,” Papio said.
Tuesday afternoon, Team Martir and Team Papio will square off in the deciding game of the Fall World Series. And neither is treating it like just a scrimmage.