How a traumatic family event helped shape Cards' Marmol
30 years later, manager recalls surviving Hurricane Andrew
ST. LOUIS – Even now, 30 years later, Oliver Marmol can think back to what he believed to be the scariest moment of his life, when rising waters came midway up his shins, howling winds caused windows to smash and those gusts forced his father and grandfather to take turns holding the clapping door shut to the closet that was sheltering the family of eight.
Then, inexplicably, things got even scarier for Marmol, the baby of the family who was 6 years old in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew was taking aim at Cutler Ridge and Homestead, Fla.
“I still remember my dad looking at my mom, as if they were saying, ‘If this happens much longer, it’s over for all of us,’” recalled Marmol, still somewhat shaken by that moment from three decades earlier. “When we saw that look between them, we knew how serious it was.”
Added Will Marmol, Oli’s oldest brother: “When dad looked back and told us, ‘Regardless of how this turns out, I want you to know that it’s been my honor to be your father,’ that’s when it hit us that we might not make it out of there.”
Remarkably, the Marmol family did make it out of that bedroom closet on Aug. 24, 1992. So many other South Floridians weren’t as lucky as the Category 5 hurricane that packed 165 mph winds and 177 mph gusts left 65 people dead, destroyed more than 63,500 homes, damaged 124,000 others and caused more than $27.5 billion of wreckage, according to a 2010 report by the Tampa Bay Times. To this day, Andrew is one of only four hurricanes to make landfall in the United States as a Category 5 storm.
Oliver Marmol, who would go on to become the Cardinals manager and the youngest skipper in the Majors, recalls the horror of seeing the devastation Andrew wreaked across South Florida. Most of all, he remembers what felt like two eternities -- the battering from the first wall of the storm and again with the back wall -- while sheltering in that bedroom closet with brothers Will, Ronny and Erik, parents William and Kuky, and grandparents, Tito and Olivia Arias.
“When I think back, I just remember my dad holding the doorknob to keep it from flinging open,” said Marmol. “It was punishing the house and it went on for what seemed like forever. When the storm ended, as far we could see, there was no neighborhood, no fences or many houses standing."
Marmol, someone who was groomed to lead the Cardinals because of his relatability and maturity, was inarguably shaped by the trauma and tragedy that his family endured. He saw the grace and poise with which others around him operated and watched as his family survived by sticking together.
“It was a tough situation, but the way my parents responded was amazing,” Marmol said. “There was no complaining because we had each other. When you go through moments like that, it brings you even tighter.”
To hear brothers Will, Ronny and Erik tell it, young “Oli” was always the star of the family and destined to do great things. They all had leadership qualities, but Oli was always next level with his ability to process under pressure and combine a certain level of maturity and compassion, Erik said.
When Oli was named the second-youngest manager in Cardinals’ history and only the second of Dominican heritage, it surprised no one in the Marmol family.
“It’s amazing to see what Oli’s done, and when people ask me about it, I can’t even explain the pride our family feels for him,” said Erik, a criminal investigator and detective in Rosenberg, Texas. “He was always so mature. We were all good players, but Oli was always special. Not just [in] baseball; he’s a great human who others rally around.”
Rally is what the Marmol family did after Hurricane Andrew. With their home unlivable, they moved into a trailer parked in the front yard of the gutted house. In the ensuing months, the Marmol family depended on the generosity of volunteers -- something that always stuck with Oli. Kuky’s coworkers donated gifts so the family could have Christmas in 1992, and the Marmols used a construction ladder as a “tree.” They wrapped lights and garland around it, and no one batted an eye.
Recalled Erik: “It’s crazy because it was probably the best Christmas we ever had as a family. I’ve asked my parents about it, and they said it was the best Christmas because of what we had been through.”
A family that moved to Florida so four sons could chase their dreams of playing baseball and getting college educations, ultimately moved back to the Dominican Republic for more than a year after Hurricane Andrew. The Marmols would later return to Florida, this time settling in Orlando.
It’s been 30 years since Oli endured the scariest time of his life, huddled with his family in that closet, facing rising waters and punishing winds, but ultimately surviving. But as the anniversary of that storm arrives, it’ll be remembered more for whom it brought together than what it took away.
“I learned so much from how my family responded,” Marmol said. “We had eight people in a trailer, but the way my parents handled it was incredible. Zero complaining and I never heard them say one negative thing. We had each other, and that’s all we needed.”