“Son, You’re Not The Underdog Anymore” | Damien Semien Discusses The Journey Of His Son Marcus Who Signed $175M Contract With Texas Rangers
MLBbro Marcus Semien’s father, Damien, vividly recalls walking into Marcus’ room to pick him up from his mother’s house, across the bay from San Francisco on the weekends, when the 31-year-old MLB All-Star was about six years old.
The image of Marcus lying in bed and using his baseball glove as a pillow is still fresh in the forefront of his father’s mind 25 years and 160 major league home runs later.
“Right when I saw that, I knew this kid was falling in love with the sport of baseball,” Damien Semien told MLBbro.com on the eve of his son’s introductory press conference with the Texas Rangers.
“So I said, ‘Ok,” Damien recalls, “let me see how it’s going to work. Something told me to stand back and let him learn how to love it. Once Marcus loved the game of baseball, I knew there was no turning back. He breathed baseball. He played on all of the El Cerrito Youth Baseball All-Star teams.”
Torch Carrier For Black Knights Of Baseball
Marcus Semien is one of a handful of Black MLB players who can be considered a superstar. The Bay Area native elevated into another stratosphere this season with the Toronto Blue Jays, setting a single-season record for home runs by a second baseman.
Semien’s historic season was so productive that he priced the Jays right out of contention and locked in early on a 7-year, $175M contract with the Texas Rangers, who lost 102 games this past season and vowed to turn the losing around with an aggressive pursuit of free agents.
As the lockout gets under way, Semien has his blockbuster contract secured and he’s anxiously looking forward to the future as a cornerstone of the Rangers’ rebuild.
A Father’s Dream
Semien’s father Damien has played a huge role in his son’s development as a ball player and a person.
As Marcus introduced himself to the fans who will sell out The Ballpark In Arlington Stadium to see his five-tool ability up close for the next seven seasons, his Dad spoke with MLBbro.com from the perspective of a Black father who’s navigated an improbable journey for his son, who’s one of the 7.8 percent African-American players in MLB.
TSL: Before we get into Marcus and his new contract, what are the three things that you feel you did right as a Dad to help your son overcome such long shot odds of becoming a pro athlete?
Damien Semien: “1. I’ve told Marcus never quit what you start. 2. If you want it bad enough go get it. 3. Always put God first. Thank God for putting you in this position and always feed the blessing he gave you through hard work and love.”
Semien Gets The Bag, Beats The Lockout
Siemien’s contract doesn’t just represent the value of Black baseball, but it serves as inspiration to the thousands of young African-American baseball players in youth leagues across the country, looking for a reason to believe that they could become the next Ken Griffey Jr., Mookie Betts or Marcus Semien.
TSL: This entire contract situation must have been like a whirlwind to your family
Damien Semien: “It is man, everything is happening so fast. It literally happened in the blink of an eye. Marcus called me on Thanksgiving and he gave me a little bit of insight into where he was as far as the whole process. Next thing I know, a few days after that. He was like, ‘this is where we are at Dad…Texas’.
Semien’s contract is more than just confirmation that he deserves to be paid in the Top 15-20 players in the sport. It’s vindication for a player who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox, traded to the Oakland A’s for two players no longer in the league and then ushered out of the door just as he was blossoming into an elite player in the sport.
Oakland Won’t Pay What Semien Weighs| Oh Canada!
Semien, who grew up in the Bay and was fortunate to play for his local MLB team in front of his family and friends for six seasons (2015-2020), was forced to go to Canada on a one-year, $18M “show me” deal, to prove that he was worth investing in long term.
TSL: What was that situation like for Marcus and your family? Having to leave Oakland, leave the country to prove that he was worth the money.
Damien: “Myself and Marcus –I can speak for him in certain respects — and my family, we owe a ton of gratitude to the Oakland A’s organization. He came over there from Chicago. He had that rough first year, but I love Bob Melvin because he stuck with Marcus. He saw something in Marcus. We all know the story. Melvin brought in Ron Washington (current Atlanta Braves coach) and they never gave up on my son.”
Fielding Guru Ron Washington Put His Magic Hands On Marcus
Washington is known as a fielding guru and has worked wonders with various players around the league, including 2021 World Series second baseman Ozzie Albies of the Atlanta Braves.
Those long hours executing Washington’s unorthodox drills worked wonders for Semien, who had a whopping 35 errors his first year at short in Oakland.
By 2019 he was a webmaster, making a respectable 12 errors in 161 games played. This season he made just eight errors in 146 starts at second base.
Damien says if Marcus could give Ron Washington “his right arm” he would. “And I’d give him my left arm, “ Damien Semien tells MLBbro.com.
Because that man (Ron Washington) molded my son into the player that he is. So there’s no animosity towards Oakland at all.
“They had to do what they had to do and Marcus had to do what he had to do. It worked out for both sides.”
TSL: How did Marcus handle the mental adjustment of switching from shortstop to second base? Most shortstops are very territorial because it’s considered an elite position on the field. Some would even take it as a demotion.
Damien Semien: “Marcus is undeniably a shortstop at heart. He knows that he can play the position and he’s proved that he can play the position. He’s proved it at a high level.”
Marcus is a team player and he’s a baseball player first. Wherever you put Marcus he’s going to work his tail off to get right. If moving to second base helps the team win then Marcus will do it.
“He took the change in stride. His challenge was making the adjustment to a new position. That’s what motivated him all season. He was the best in the American League at his position.”
Texas Rebuilding With All-Star Infield
That’s why when the Rangers — a team that went to back-to-back World Series with Ron Washington at the helm in 2010-11 — also signed Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager to a 10-year $325 million deal, Marcus and his Dad were elated. The move shows that Texas is committed to acquiring talent and quickly transforming a losing culture.
I love that. That’s beautiful. Those two (Semien & Seager) up the middle. That’s a good combination right there.
Next Level Sh*t
Marcus Semien has raised the market value for second baseman and also risen from super solid shortstop in a league full of great shortstops to the premier second baseman in the game. Quite a leap, and all he had to do was move 90 feet to his left.
Damien Semien: “As a father, Marcus winning the Gold Glove impressed the heck out of me because I told Marcus before his career ended I wanted him to win one because that’s what he worked so hard at. We go back to that first year with the A’s when Marcus made all of those errors… that Gold Glove proved to the world that you made some mistakes and you worked your butt off to correct those mistakes.”
TSL: Why was the Texas Rangers a perfect fit for Marcus?
Damien Semien: “Marcus wants to be part of a rebuilding process. Texas didn’t have a very good year, but in the recruiting process Marcus was able to assess what they had and what they potentially got. That’s his biggest motivating factor right now.
It’s going to be a good run here and he has seven years to get it going. But I think it’s going to get better very soon.”
Marcus knows the AL West up and down and I think they got a good shot with the pieces they are putting together. They will be right up there with Houston.
TSL: What intangibles does Marcus bring to the Texas Rangers as a player and leader?
Damien Semien: “He leads by example. He’s a quiet man but knows how to lead. He had a taste of the league and what it takes to win and how hard it is to win and he’s going to be able to show young players what it takes.”
Marcus loves the process to succeed. It’s contagious from what I’ve been told. I talked to a few of the A’s players that I know and they said, ‘man Marcus is contagious.’
“His work ethic, his every-single-day routine that he doesn’t veer away from… that’s contagious.”
Family & Sports Is The Foundation
You can’t discuss the career of Marcus Semien without acknowledging the heavy influence and foundation in sports set by his grandfather, father and uncles.
Damien says the Semien Family sports legacy dates back to his grandfather and was passed along to Damien and his brothers and then to Marcus who has young boys of his own.
Damien Semien: “They all had a pretty strong sports background and laid a good foundation in San Francisco. I played baseball, basketball, football, and ran track. But my first love was baseball.”
Marcus was a great multi-sport athlete himself. A dynamic basketball player who starred on a state basketball team that went to the Finals and he played against the NBA’s Jrue Holiday.
Marcus was a star at Saint Mary’s High School in Berkeley, California. He hit .471 as a junior and .371 in his senior year. He went to Cal Berkeley for college and experienced some ups and downs, but flashed enough raw skills to be considered an MLB prospect.
Damien Semien: “But he has always been a very smart, humble and an appreciative young man. Money will never change Marcus. He’s humble even in his spending habits. He and his wife Tarah.”
Semien’s wife has some solid sports genes as well. Both of Tarah’s parents are former college athletes. Her father, played college basketball at San Jose State and was with the 192nd overall selection during the ninth round of the 1981 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. Her mother also attended San Jose State and was a member of the volleyball team.
Damien Semien: “I also tip my hat to Marcus’ wonderful mother Tracy. She did an outstanding job with Marcus. Everyone knew our story. We weren’t together, so Marcus was raised at my house and her house. We raised a fantastic young man and no one can ever take that away from both of us.”
TSL: Will this new contract put more pressure on Marcus who is already playing in a sport that sometimes devalues the contributions of Black players?
Damien Semien: “Now as far as pressure, Marcus has handled it very well. He’s been in an underdog role throughout his career and he feels like he’s always had to prove himself every year over and over and over, but again that’s his motivation.”
I just told him last night, ‘Son you’re not the underdog anymore.Everybody knows who Marcus Semien is now.’ He made it to the top so far. Now he’s got to stay at the top. That will be his new motivation.
The Future Of Baseball Is Now
Marcus Semien is a grown man who beat all the odds and is living a superstar life that most people only see in the movies. But his relationship with his Dad remains the same. A union based on love, trust and support. Damien remains a positive voice and silent force in the life of an MLB star who seems to have it all figured out.