By Kenny Ayres
Sam Carel stepped out of the Marlins' team bus, weighed down by a large black backpack that was slung over his right shoulder. He carried a large fountain Pepsi that he had not taken a sip of in one hand, and four CPL lineup cards clipped together by a Zebra pen in the other. His legs were covered by long, brightly-colored dress socks, that he wore underneath a pair of ankle-length, gray Chuck Taylor's that were slightly torn at the heel.
As he walked towards the dugout at Wilson's Fleming Stadium, he could not help but exude energy.
"[He has] a lot [of energy] and it's a lot of fun," said Marlins' outfielder Matt Simmons. "He brings the energy up, and when your coach is having a lot of energy you want to get up with him. He acts like a 12 year old sometimes and I love it."
Part of it is intentional—like any coach of a baseball team that plays every day, he has to stay upbeat as he leads his players through the dog days of summer.
But a lot of it is just the way he is. Carel is intense, but in a very good way. He will belly-flop in the third base coach's box alongside a player sliding into third, and sprint after foul balls hit his way. He is always quick to get the team motivated, whether by taping a "You are the man!" poster to the wall inside the dugout, or by giving his players an extra hard pat on the back after a clutch hit.
"When Carroll hit that double [the other day] and got to third, it looked like he was abusing Carroll," joked Matt Simmons. "If you get a big double or something, once you get to third, he just lays into you. I sometimes don't want to go to third because I don't want to get abused."
And he seems to never stop moving.
He doesn't," said Marlins outfielder Trent Leimkuehler, who also plays for Carel at Jefferson College. "That's just how he is. He wants to win and he knows that we all want to win, but he doesn't stop moving, doesn't stop anything. He wants to get everybody going."
For Carel, who has an impressive coaching resume with Missouri State and Jefferson College, it is easy to see why he is well-liked. His knowledge of the game is one thing—there is a reason he led Jefferson to eight straight conference championships—but it's also his fire and quirks that make Carel such a popular coach.
"He has a looseness about him," Leimkuehler said.
"It's energy," Carel added. "Whether we are winning a bunch of games or losing a bunch of games, I always tell the guys to be comfortable in your own skin. I'm comfortable in my own skin, and I like keeping things light."
Light in mood, and in colors.
Carel, who has is known for some very noticeable quirks, won't dare step onto the field without his now trademark brightly accented, high dress socks. But he doesn't do it to be funny, or get a rise out of anyone. There is a method to the madness.
"Nothing I do is to be funny," Carel said. "It's a connection with every little thing. Like, I always have stuff in my bag. I have something in my bag that I have kept for years from my Pops, I've got something in my bag from my two kids. There is always a little something that I get from people along my journey and I just always keep it with me. People think it's quirky and funny but it's really just loyalty to people who have meant a lot to me on my journey."
"For example, a friend of mine, she's into socks. She gave me…what kind of socks where they?...I forget the name of the socks.... oh Argyle! She gave me a pair of Argyle socks, Argyle striped socks. They were kind of a good luck charm for the year, and that year we ended up going to the World Series in Grand Junction Colorado. The following year she gave me another pair of socks, a new pair. So we mixed and matched 'em, that's what we did. That year we went back to Colorado and were three wins away from the national title, so now it's just become a tradition. Each year she gives me a new pair of Argyle socks and we see where it goes."
Same goes for his Chuck Taylor's which he has been known to wear on the field when coaching, because, well, why not?
"In 2011 there was a sports director out there [in Colorado] with one of the local channels and we struck up a friendship," Carel said. "I was telling him about my Chuck's, you know just one of those conversations. He said 'You should wear those on the field,' and I said 'If we come back next year, I will wear them for every game.' So we win the Super Regional [in 2012] and the first phone call that I got from Colorado was from Kyle, and he said 'You remember last year what we talked about?' and I said 'I know I will wear the Chucks every day, for every game,' and I did."
Everything he does that might come off as random or unplanned has a meaning to Carel, and a story behind it. But even he will admit some of his idiosyncrasies are funny, like his propensity to burn through lineup cards each game like they are firewood—for which he is relentlessly teased by his players and the Marlins staff.
"I'm a neat freak," Carel said, laughing. "Everything has to be clean and perfect. AND spelled right. My lineup cards have to be perfect, as you all know, I'm a little OCD on my lineup cards."
But it's just all in the character, and with the type of setting he is in, that character fits the story very well.
"In a summer collegiate environment with players coming from all over it's good to have a coach who keeps the guys loose on the field and has a sense of humor," said Marlins general manager Mitch Kluver. "[He brings] not only energy, but positive energy."
That energy and attitude has earned him the respect of his players, and has encouraged them to stay loose and have fun even during the trials of a long season that did not start of as the Marlins had planned. He will always be the first to crack a joke, poke harmless fun at himself and others, or talk about his eclectic taste in movies—"I love the Hunger Games trilogy," he says. "I'm team Peeta."
It all comes together to form the perfect storm, and it brings an incredible amount of excitement to the clubhouse.
"When a good play happens, he is just like a shocking explosion, and everybody realizes, 'Whoa lets get up,'" said Marlins' first baseman Quincy Nieporte said. "He's like a rabbit."
"If we need to stay lose or joke around a little bit, he is always there to do that and it kind of helps us play well," Leimkuehler said. "I think that is why he such a good coach. He's going to stay lose and have fun. Playing baseball is all about having fun."
It's evident Carel has already figured that one out.