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A chance to remember and celebrate the life of Ryan Marshall

The old line about coping skills goes something like this: You can't stop the waves from coming, but you can sure learn how to surf.

Ryan Marshall's friends have spent the last six months in their own metaphorical waters, trying to explain the unexplainable. Marshall, a former all-state pitcher at Waterford High and bon vivant by anyone's measure, died of kidney failure in October. He was not yet 40.

"The challenging part has been lack of closure. Everyone is still kind of saying 'how could we have helped?'" lifelong friend Jay Kelly was saying recently. "Guys beating themselves up every day since Oct. 26. You look at a guy who essentially has it all, not just in terms of athletics but an ability to just connect with people. One of the most impressive things I've seen is that everyone has a Ryan Marshall story. It wasn't always a baseball or basketball story. He always found a way to bring people in and make them feel like they were part of something. That's where the biggest challenge lies. To make sense of this."

And now they'll all try to make sense of it together May 1, with a day of remembrance and celebration of his life. It'll begin at the Babe Ruth Field at 10 a.m. with some speeches, informal softball game and home run derby, followed by a gathering at Cohanzie Fire Dept. with food trucks, games for kids and a raffle.

"We want to give folks an opportunity, if they want, to share their favorite Ryan Marshall story," said Kelly, who joins Taylor Ortolani, Nassim Saad, Zack Nolda and Colby Castro on the Ryan Marshall Foundation Board.

"We've had six months to digest this whole thing," Kelly said. "We want to make this a positive day for his family and also look for opportunities to continue his memory and his passion for supporting youth sports. Continue that vision and donate back."

Marshall, a gregarious lefty, was the centerpiece of former coach Jack O'Keefe's early championship teams. He would pitch at Central Connecticut and Mitchell College before joining the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 35.

"My favorite story about Ryan is the night before we were playing Fitch in the ECC tournament," Kelly said. "A few guys from Fitch were quoted saying they were ready for Ryan and that they'd played against guys better than he is. This is who they wanted.

"That night at my house, me, Kevin Patterson, Kerry Perrotta and Mark Capasso kept telling Ryan, 'oh, Fitch is gonna get you.' Lighting a fire under him. He went from this fun-loving, goofy guy to completely locked in. They got what they wanted. He mowed them down. The same stare he had when he left my house is the same one he had staring into the Fitch dugout. It was hard to imagine this was the same goofy guy who would dress up as a pirate to go to a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' trilogy at the movies squeezing himself into his little green car is the same guy who could lock in like this."

Marshall was the first guy invited to the party. Maybe because he provided the entertainment. Or maybe because conversations with him always made you feel better about yourself.

"Whether it was him and Darby Brown or some 10-year old kid at a skate park, Ryan always had the same curiosity and interest in people," Kelly said. "He could always move the conversation away from himself. He always wanted to tell you how good John Contillo was instead of himself."

More Kelly: "He loved singing. He'd hold down a whole corner of a party with comedic impressions of Tracy Morgan and singing R. Kelly songs. He'd call people in the middle of the night and do Tracy Morgan. He wouldn't budge or break character.

"He was a really smart dude, especially when came to Trivial Pursuit. Everyone wanted to be invited to Uncas Avenue to be in those games. You never knew how he knew this stuff. He'd call me during Jeopardy or text me all the answers."

Kelly was very thankful to Waterford Babe Ruth for opening the field on May 1 (a Saturday) in the middle of the season. He said anyone who wants to know more about the day or donate to the raffle may contact him at Jay2apple@yahoo.com.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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