In the same week that the Manti Te’o “fake girlfriend” scandal captivated and horrified the nation, another story emerged that touched on sports, Twitter and a prominent death. The difference is this one, rather than demonstrate all the worst things about the Internet, social media and humanity in general, showcased some of the best.
Also, @MarkM625 really lived and really died.
When Mark Marinelli of Bethlehem, a lifelong Phillies fan who used that handle, passed away suddenly on January 18th, Marinelli’s many acquaintances in the Phillies fan community on Twitter gathered online to share their memories of their late friend. Soon after, the blog Phillies Nation launched a charity drive, using the hashtag #Give4Mark, meant to assist Marinelli’s family with his funeral and other expenses.
By the time the campaign, run through Phillies Nation’s Paypal account, closed on Tuesday, it had raised more than $7,500, well over the initial goal, in just 10 days. The #Give4Mark hashtag was mentioned on Twitter more than 1,000 times.
Marinelli, who was 39, suffered from muscular dystrophy and used a wheelchair for much of his life. He had not been expected to live past the age of 18, but lived a much longer life that included a championship for his beloved Phillies in 2008.
“We were all really impressed with Mark and his story and his background,” Ian Riccaboni, a writer for Phillies Nation and the self-described “hype man” of the #Give4Mark campaign, told me. “It hit us hard because he was a really funny guy. He had a really dry sense of humor that really warmed everybody up.”
Marinelli made news in 2011 when he became friends over Twitter with Logan Morrison, an outfielder for Phillies rival Miami Marlins, and the relationship led Morrison to invite Marinelli as his guest to a game that year at Citizens Bank Park. Last week Morrison, known as one of baseball’s most prolific social media users, tweeted eloquently about Marinelli’s death and donated to the #give4mark effort.
One person instrumental in the charity drive—who claims credit for the idea, in fact—is the clown prince of the local Twitter scene, the mysterious tweeter known as @FanSince09. The anonymous operator of that account was close with Marinelli, who was one of the few people aware of @FanSince09′s true identity.
“We don’t know who he or she is,” Riccaboni said of @FanSince09. “But we were able to use the power of a fictional character to raise money for someone who we knew in passing, but who was a big part of the Phillies and fan community.”
Others who played a big role in the effort, in addition to Riccaboni, were Phillies Nation writer Robert Cowie and the site’s CEO, Brian Michael. The group has been in touch with Marinelli’s sister and plans to present her with the funds in the coming days.
Meanwhile, various local athletes and other sports figures have mentioned or retweeted the #Give4Mark hashtag. Marinelli’s final tweet mentioned that he was “loving Legit,” a new FX TV series about a comedian and his brother, who has muscular dystrophy. The actor who plays the brother on the show, D.J. Qualls, was made aware of Marinelli’s death and tweeted that “Im so touched, I don’t have words.”
Riccaboni noted that, in light of the Te’o brouhaha, some on Twitter questioned whether they were being “catfished.” However, there is much documentation of Marinelli’s existence: Morrison, of course, met him, and their friendship was the topic of several newspaper articles in 2011, in which they were pictured together and Marinelli was interviewed. Marinelli wrote a blog for several years, and an obituary was published in the Allentown Morning Call last week.
And while several people associated with the #give4Mark campaign met Marinelli in person, Riccaboni, to his regret, never got the chance. The two bonded on Twitter, however, over the Phillies and their shared Allentown heritage.
In addition to the juxtaposition with Te’o, Riccaboni noted that the coming together on behalf of their late friend provides a bit of a counterpoint to the usual, less-positive narrative about Philadelphia sports fans. “As Phillies fans and Philadelphia sports fans we get bound by the Santa Claus incident,” he said. “But this was a real 180.”