Double Play: Twins Continue to Excel as Teammates After 56 Years
As individual softball players, Ron and Don Marley know they aren't they best shortstop or second baseman, but as a tandem they have no peer.
Known is competitive softball circles as "the twins" the identical brothers from Robbins have anchored the middle infield of countless baseball and softball teams for 56 years. For nearly all of those years Ron has played shortstop and his older brother (by six minutes) has played second base.
" I'm not saying we are the best second baseman or the best shortstop out there, but together we are," Ron says. "Nobody plays it better than us, and everybody tells us that."
Last year the Marleys, who will turn 62 in September, played on three different over 60 senior teams and won four national championships. They won the International Softball Federation Championship with TAPCO Underwriters from Chapel Hill, the Amateur Softball Association Championship with Flip Dow Bonding from Gastonia, the International Senior Softball Association National and World Championships with Southland Log Homes from Christiansburg, Va. The twins were selected to four National Tournament teams that year and set an ASA record by turning 15 double plays in the tournament.
"I can field the ball (behind the second base bag) and flip it like that (backhanded) to Don, and I don't have to look. I know where Don's going to be and he knows where I am going to be. It's instinct with us," Ron says. "We should be able to play like that. We've been playing together all our lives."
And if their slick fielding wasn't enough, the pair each batted over .800 last year.
The key to their offensive success?
The Marley's eschew power for precision.
Says Don: We're base-hitters, We can hit to all fields."
Ron added: "I know I couldn't hit the ball out of the park, and I might be able to hit one over the outfielders head, but it is more fun to have them (outfielders) come in (play shallow) and still be able to hit one in front of them for a base hit."
The Marley's are quick to credit others for their success.
"We were blessed with talent from God, and out dad helped develop that, and we've been fortunate enough to play with good teammates," Don says. "Most guys can't say that. Our teammates care about out families and we care about their's. There is more things to life than winning and losing and playing ball."
Destined for Greatness
It was Sept. 2, 1947 and Ed Marley had an announcement for his co-workers at the Robbins Mill. Marley's wife Bea had just given birth to two boys, a shortstop and a second baseman.
Ed's twin boys learned the game of baseball from an early age. At 3, the boys would catch fly balls on the beach during the family's summer vacation to North Myrtle Beach. Early each morning when the tide was out, the father and his two sons would go out on the beach and play ball in the sand.
"Dad had a little rubber ball and we had rubber gloves and he hit fly balls as high as he could hit them and we'd catch them," Ron says. "And we'd never miss one." He started us very young and from that time on we always had a bat or a ball in our hands."
Ed Marly had a passion for the game, but more important than passion was his ability to teach what he loved to his boys and countless others.
"He is one of the most knowledgeable baseball players I've ever known," Don Marley says about his father. "He knew the game and knew how to teach it. A lot of the kids in this town attributed their ability to play to him."
Blessed with God-given ability and a father who taught them the right way to play the game -- hard and with great respect for your teammates and opponents -- it was fluke incident that shaped their careers for decades.
At age 6, playing for their first little league team, the Marleys started as outfielders, but switched positions quickly when their head coach, Ed Marley made a strategic decision to improve the team.
The elder Marley moved Ron to second base and Don to shortstop because our their ability to field ground balls better than their teammates.
"About the second game we played, I slammed a car door on my right hand -- my throwing hand, " Don says. "All my fingers were swollen up and I said, 'Dad, I don't think I can throw from shortstop.' " He said, 'what well do today is move Ron to short and you to second so you can make the shorter throw.'
The switch was permanent.
"You would have thought we would have switched back after a game or two," Ron says. " but I loved shortstop and he loved second base better than where we were. So I said, 'Let's just stay here."
Baseball Turns to Softball
Baseball was a way of life for the twins. But playing in a small town the steady fielders with speed and excellent bat control, excelled in relative obscurity.
"Everybody says why didn't you guys go play pro ball, with the way you guys play you probably could have made it, but you didn't know where to go," Don says.
"You have to have the contacts to know which camp to go to or have a coach who put you out there, and playing in a little town like this, it wasn't like playing in Greensboro, Charlotte or Raleigh, where everybody would see you and know about you," Ron says.
The one time the twins got noticed, it was purely accidental.
An American Legion scout for a team from Siler City -- the closest to the Robbins area at the time -- came to scout two pitchers playing high school baseball with the twins. He came away with four players, two pitchers and a pair of middle infielders.
The brothers played throughout high school, graduating from Elise High School. They went on to college where they began playing softball. After three years of college the brothers enlisted in the Marine Corps.
"That kinda quelled all that talk about playing minor league baseball" Ron says.
After three years serving their country, the Marleys returned home to Robbins. It was 1976. The pair worked for Coca-Cola in Aberdeen before starting their own lawn care business in 1992.
Ron and his wife Sarah still lives in the home the family grew up in. He is the father of three daughters -- Wendy, Kristi and Shannon, and grandfather of three. Don lives across the street with his wife, Crystal. He has a son, Don II, and two grandchildren.
Both live walking distance from Milliken Community Park and the baseball field where they learned to play the game from their father.
The brothers have always been close friends, and say their are "equal in ability."
When asked what the best thing about being a twin is, their answer comes in unison: "We've always had a teammate to play catch with."
Change Isn't Always Best
Last year during the ISSA Winter World Championships, the Marley's found themselves in unfamiliar territory. Playing on a team of players from around the country, the Marley's were asked by their manager to play third and first in order to accommodate another pair of middle infielders.
"I told him, Ron can play third and I can play first but you are taking our biggest contribution away from the team," Don says. "First game we did that, and its the only time I can remember it happening."
After the game, the players who supplanted the Marleys went to the manager and urged him to put Ron and Don back at their natural positions. He did and the twins turned three double plays in the game and helped the team to seven straight wins by turning 15 double plays en route to winning the championship.
"Last year was a phenomenal year, to play in five national championships and win four of them ... I don't ever expect to do that again," Ron says.
Still Going Strong
Nowadays, the brothers show few signs of slowing down. They still play about a dozen tournaments a year. They are playing for two teams this year, the Carolina All Stars from Jacksonville, N.C. and the Southland Log Homes team.
When they aren't playing or practicing softball, or traveling across the country for games, the twins work in the yard. They own their own lawn care business, which affords them the flexibility to travel and play the sport they love.
The twins estimate they have played in countless games for more than 20 teams over the previous 56 years.
"We've never played on a losing team," Don says.
The twins have been invited by several folks in the Robbins/Highfalls community to come out to coach. It is an offer they are considering.
"Our biggest problem now is finding the time to get involved with coaching kids." That is something we may not do in the next year or two but is is something we are definitely thinking about because I think we can pass on some knowledge," Don says.
But for the immediate future the brothers have no plans to stop playing.
"When you get older you don't run quite as fast, and you lose some ability, but we'd like to play at least until we are 70," Don says.
Ron added: We'll play as long as the good Lord gives us the ability to play. "We're still playing as well as we ever have."
Don't believed him?
Just ask George Chance, a teammate better know to many as "the third twin."
"I have played with the twins for the past 10 years," Chance says. "And in all of my experiences of playing baseball and softball, I have not seen or played with a better shortstop or second baseman combination."
But Chance says the Marley's are more than just great players.
"The twins' priority is what is best for the team. They are extremely supportive of their teammates off and on the field, and are always willing to help. It is a compliment to me to be referred to as the third twin."
Other teammates expressed similar sentiment.
"I have played against and win Don and Ron Marley for several years and not only do I consider them teammates, but life-long friends," says Steve Ferguson. "The twins know the game; display excellent sportsmanship on the field and are honorable off it."
And when they retire the twins know they will have something some much more precious than any trophy.
"The day will come when we know we won't be able to play the game anymore, Don says, "but we'll be friends with these guys (teammates past and present) as long as we all are still living and we've made some lasting friendships. And that is most important thing."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2477 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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