Athletics shortstop prospect Mark Ellis came from Stevens High School in
Rapid City South Dakota, a place which doesn't even have it's own high
school baseball team.
"One of the reasons we
don't have a baseball team is pretty much because of the weather.
You just couldn't play that many games with the type of weather we have in
South Dakota. The competition is good there, though. Some of
these players, if they played in California or Florida, would have
probably gone further in baseball," said Ellis
So how does a player get
from a place where the weather isn't baseball weather, to playing for the
Florida Gators baseball team, to getting drafted in the ninth round by the
Kansas City Royals? The answer is simple for Ellis. Make do
with what you have.
Ellis may not have had a
high school team, but he had talent and the guidance of Coach Dave Ploos,
who has been in baseball for 34 years, and was the coach of the American
Legion teams in Rapid City, South Dakota. With the American Legion
team, Ellis was dominant with a .471 batting average, 11 homeruns, and
became an RBI machine with 91 RBI's in just 83 games. In addition to
the statistics that Ellis put up in the American Legion League, he also
made history by becoming the only player in the state to receive the South
Dakota American Legion Player-of-the-Year, and was the only shortstop in
the state to ever achieve this award.
"We have some great
programs in the American Legion League. I really learned a lot from
Coach Ploos. I don't think I would be where I am today without his
help. He got a lot of players to junior college level baseball and
college baseball," said Ellis.
Shortly before graduating
at Stevens High School in Rapids City, Ellis was starting to get attention
from the professional scouts. For Ellis the transition from American
Legion baseball to pro ball was not something he was ready to take
"I talked to ten or twelve
different teams. I decided not to go in the draft because I didn't
feel I was mature enough. For me, it was the right decision. I
wasn't mature enough to deal with the daily pressure that goes on in
professional baseball. I was also only around 150 pounds," said
the transition from high school baseball to college ball was difficult for
Ellis. Ellis soon adjusted to the demanding schedule of a student
"It was tough at first,
because you had to go to class, and then there might be a baseball game
later that day. You are also playing against some of the best
players in the entire country, "said Ellis.
Towards the middle of the
season, after adjusting to the daily rigors of college life and baseball,
Ellis started receiving more playing time. Ellis took advantage of
the playing time with a .351 average, nine doubles, one homerun, and 26
During games, Ellis began
to rise to the occasion as the pressure and stakes increased.
Perhaps one of the most interesting game-winning hits came on Feb. 16,
1997, in a game against the third ranked Miami Hurricanes. The
baseball looked like it was going to be caught, but it wasn't as the
baseball came out of Hurricanes Ryan Grimmett's
That became one of Ellis's
most memorable moments, there was still more clutch moments to come
against the number one ranked Florida State Seminoles. Playing
with a strained rotator cuff, he was able to get the game-winning hit in
the eleventh inning to help the Gators drown their rivals. Although
these are some Ellis's is most memorable moments in college baseball, they
still don't top playing in the College World Series in 1996,1997, and
"That was the first
time we went to the College World Series. It was our freshman year
and it was the first time on national television," said Ellis.
Ellis had no idea what round he was
going to go into in the draft. When he did receive the call
informing him he was drafted, there was only one way for Ellis to describe
the feeling of being drafted.
"I was really excited
about getting drafted in the ninth round. I was very happy to be
drafted," said Ellis.
Before his first
professional season began, Ellis had heard nightmare stories about the
first season. For Ellis, his first season was not a nightmare at all
and he actually describes his that season as fun. Fun included the
way Ellis hit .327, with seven homeruns, and 14 doubles, and caused
pitchers to keep a constant watch out when he was on base by stealing 21
in single A.
In Wilmington in 2000, he
received some help in the area that was considered one of his weakest
since he got drafted: his arm strength. He worked everyday with
Coach Jeff Garber on his throwing mechanics. Ellis also got a taste
of the upper minors playing in double A
"Jeff really helped
improved my throwing mechanics and strength. That is something I
continue to work on, and I feel I am getting better at everyday," said
In the off-season, Ellis was dealt a surprise
that he was traded from the Kansas City Royals organization to the Oakland
Athletics organization as part of the Johnny Damon
"It was tough because I
never had any idea before I got traded. I made a lot of good friends
in the Royals organization. I quickly found out that Oakland has a great
organization and they had great facilities in Scottsdale," said
At the Oakland
Athletics minor league camp, Ellis quickly became adjusted. After
learning routine of getting up, eating breakfast, taking batting practice,
doing drills, and taking one ground ball after another, he began to fit
"I knew a couple
of the players from college. Even though I didn't really know
that many people at first, after a few weeks everything started clicking,"
Shortly after the season,
making the leap from single A to triple A was mind bending, having never
faced most of these pitchers in his career. Also, being only 24
years of age, Ellis has found himself in a veterans' domain with several
former big league players and pitchers.
"The biggest difference
between single A and triple A is that the pitchers in single A want to
throw the ball by you. Here, the pitchers are smarter. I am
learning how to make adjustments everyday," said Ellis.
Ellis has also learned a
lot from a former big leaguer F.P Santangelo, who has six years of big
"It is amazing to watch
the way he works on the field and way he conducts himself off the field,"
For Ellis, his long-term
goal is to make it to the major leagues. And that looks like it is
going to happen, being just one level below the major league level.
Another goal that Ellis has in his drive to succeed as a baseball player
"I would like to improve
everyday," said Ellis