Tom Marra, the former anonymous donor who gave $500,000 to build the baseball stadium at Fitch High School, said he gave the money to give back to a community he wants to be a bigger part of, and to support a cause he feels strongly about.
“We love baseball,” Marra said. “My wife and I were also very involved with student athletes, so we thought, if we could create an opportunity to have a team in the (New England Collegiate Baseball League), that it would be phenomenal for the community.”
A third baseman
Marra played baseball in college. He was a third-basemen at St. Bonaventure University, a private Franciscan Catholic University in Allegany, N.Y.
In 2006, he gave $900,000 to build a field at St. Bonaventure. He also built a field at his old high school in Lakewood, N.Y.
Like most young players, he dreamed of becoming a professional ball player, but found his skills were elsewhere.
“I found I was better at numbers than at hitting curve balls,” he said. “But as the NCAA says, most of us are going to go pro in something other than sports.”
He became an insurance actuary instead. And a good one.
Marra is now president and chief executive officer of Symetra Financial Corporation, an insurance and investment firm in Seattle, Wash. He formerly worked as president and chief operating officer at Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Marra and his wife, Michelle, have been coming to Mystic for 18 years, and own a house on Cedar Street, where they plan to spend more time.
“He’s a down-to-earth, great guy that loves to do things for people and give to the community,” School Board Member Bob Peruzzotti said. “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone, even through all that went on with this.”
The field at Fitch became the subject of scrutiny and angry exchanges between town and school officials, after it ended up costing $140,000 more than the donation, and bills went unpaid.
The bills were ultimately paid with department of defense money given to the board of education.
“My take on it is everyone had the right intentions,” Marra said. “. . .The team tried their level best and the town tried their level best, but there were misunderstandings that were unfortunate. But now we’re past that.”
On Tuesday, the Groton Town Council approved a 20-year contract between itself, the Board of Education and Bristol Collegiate Baseball Club, Inc., in the care of Marra.
The contract allows the team to use the Fitch field during the New England Collegiate Baseball League Season, from June 1 until Aug. 15 of each year.
The town won’t seek reimbursement for the $140,000.
“This is a clean slate. We are starting over,” Mayor Heather Bond Somers said.
Marra said he didn’t specify being anonymous; he just didn’t want all the fanfare that came with the donation. But now it makes sense that people know he and his wife, he said.
Marra formerly owned a small portion of the Schooners, a non-profit team within the league, along with former owner Kevin Kelleher. Marra recently bought the rights to the team from Kelleher; the deal should close in the next few days.
Marra said Kelleher did a good job getting the team started, and deserves credit for that. Marra said he plans to keep Dennis Long as general manager of the Schooners, and hire a marketing director.
Marketing the team
He believes that through marketing and with time, the team can draw more local fans and summer visitors through Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport.
“I think we’ll start to hit a stride even this upcoming season,” he said. There are hundreds of marketing ideas, he said. It’s just a matter of deciding which to try.
Marra would build ten fields if he could. He’s not sure he’ll reach that goal, he said, but he might.
“It’s a good way to give back, I think,” he said. “The usage that these fields can get is just pretty special.”