If you spend enough time with Gary Marineau you’re bound to hear about his adventures playing in pickup basketball games with Doug Flutie, talking about stone masonry with Bill “Spaceman” Lee, or striking out Oil Can Boyd in a 45-and-older baseball league.
Spend even more time with Marineau and his wife, Lisa, and you’ll get an inspiring crash course on the human condition. From the unimaginable pain and grief of losing a child to the sheer joy of adopting children.
From watching one son defy overwhelming physical limitations every single day to another son throwing a no-hitter in his first season with the Vinal Tech baseball team.
Gary Marineau watched his son, Toby, play baseball on Thursday afternoon. That wasn’t always the case this spring. Marineau was in his third season coaching the varsity baseball team at Valley Regional.
“I knew he was missing Toby and I kind of asked him a few times if he was OK,” Lisa said.
And with his other adopted son, Taber, scheduled to have complex eye surgery earlier this spring, Marineau decided he needed to be with his family. The Warriors were going to be coached by assistant Brian Drinkard for the final seven games of the regular season and throughout the state tournament. Marineau was going to be with Toby and Taber.
“There were lots of things going on with follow-up appointments and Taber needed the support of both Lisa and I and that was a big factor in the decision,” Marineau said.
“I was surprised…happily surprised,” Lisa added.
Marineau, who won 300 games in 19 seasons at Cheney Tech before heading to Deep River, led Valley to the Shoreline Conference championship game a year ago (the Warriors lost to Cromwell). “It was really hard,” Marineau said.
“But Brian’s been with me for three years and he knows the style. The kids love him. I told the guys I’m not leaving you. I’m not disappearing. You have my number and email if you need me. I communicate with Brian every day. They’re doing well. It was a seamless transition.”
The Marineau’s were stunned last fall when Taber, age 12, was diagnosed with a rare progressive eye disease called Keratoconus. Taber’s eye was turning cone-shaped and completely distorting his vision.
“We were like…what is that? We never heard of it,” Marineau said. “He was losing vision rapidly in the left eye and it was spreading to the right.”
The Marineaus and their son, Tristan, had lost their daughter and sister, Courtney Marineau, in 1997. Courtney had Spina Bifida and died at age 13.
After “living like Zombies” for two years, Gary and Lisa adopted Toby and his biological brother Taber, and a girl, Sharay, a junior now who competes in track and field at Old Saybrook High School.
Taber was born with Epilepsy. He suffered through numerous seizures and experienced physical and mental delays. Doctors said he may never walk or talk. But Taber has defied those odds and beyond. He hits a baseball. He golfs. He made his middle school basketball team. He inspires people every day and he was going to face this Keratoconus like every other challenge in his life. And do it with a big smile.
“Taber’s a lovable kid,” Gary Marineau said. “He was hugging all of the doctors up in Boston. I tell you, when I grow up I want to be like Taber.”
Taber underwent a five-hour surgery at the prestigious Massachusetts Eye and Ear about five weeks ago. The procedure, called Cross-linking, stopped the disease’s progression.
“It was a relief to finally get that done. It weighed heavily on us,” Lisa said. “His recovery is going good but there will be things down the road, like maybe a corneal transplant.”
With Taber as his inspiration, Toby Marineau, 15, has made a splash in his first season with the Vinal Tech baseball team.
Marineau, a hard throwing freshman right-hander, has gone 5-2 with an 0.81 ERA. He has 75 strikeouts against only 11 walks. He struck out 15 and allowed just two hits in a 2-1 win over University.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Toby, who is also batting .409 with 12 RBIs. “I have a lot of confidence. My dad has helped with my pitching. I’m throwing a lot harder.”
Last Monday, Toby, who pitches for the Connecticut Heat AAU team in the summer, tossed a no-hitter against Capital Prep at Hartford’s Hyland Park. He had 16 strikeouts.
“Toby has a high baseball IQ,” Gary Marineau said. “He loves baseball and has been around it a long time.”
Gary Marineau also loves baseball. A stone mason during the day, Marineau has been helping Vinal Tech coach Doug Curtis. The freshman-sophomore laden Hawks qualified for the Class M state tournament with a victory over Capital Prep on Thursday at the Serra Complex in Middletown.
“I’m here helping out with BP,” Marineau said. “I give Doug a lot of credit. He could have said, like some coaches would, ‘No…I’ve got this.’ But he’s welcomed me. I still want to coach and there may be opportunities to do that. Baseball’s a big part of my life.”
Marineau still plays in a 45-and-older baseball league in Cranston, Rhode Island. He recently tossed a 128-pitch victory against a team featuring former Red Sox star Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. He even struck Boyd out.
Afterwards, Boyd noticed Marineau and Toby playing catch on the sidelines. Boyd walked over and told the Marineau’s that Toby’s pitching mechanics – from his arm angle, throwing motion and follow through – were strikingly similar to his former teammate Lee Smith.
Smith, who played for eight teams during 18 seasons in the majors, was one of the most dominant closers in baseball history. His 478 career saves are behind only Mariano Rivera (652) and Trevor Hoffman (602).
Toby Marineau has one save. It’s bigger than them all.
“Adopting the children that we have has saved our lives, our marriage, our world,” Gary Marineau said. “They changed everything. You have a reason now. Our calendar is filled. Anyone with kids knows what I’m talking about but this was a life saving situation. We’re blessed in a million ways.”