photo credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
If you haven’t heard much about Mark Ellis this Spring Training, it’s more by design than oversight from the veteran infielder. Signed by the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason to compete at second base and provide another right-handed bat off the bench, Ellis has been careful not to engage in conversations about “what-if” scenarios about competing with Kolten Wong at second base.
“They didn’t promise me anything,” said Ellis of his conversation with the team before he signed as a free agent this offseason.
“My game plan is to do whatever I can to help the team win. They’re going to decide what they want to do. I want to help Kolten to be a better player too, but my game plan is to go out there, to get prepared like I always do to be an everyday player. And I’ll just be ready to play—whatever Mike (Matheny) wants me to do. Doesn’t matter to me. I want to win. I want to win a championship and whatever my role is on this team is what it’s going to be. I signed here to win.”
Competition and beating the odds isn’t anything new for Ellis. He grew up in the baseball “hotbed” of South Dakota.
“The amateur baseball is pretty good, but there’s not a lot of guys who go out and play,” admitted Ellis of his home state. “Maybe junior college or small-time colleges but I was fortunate that they saw me at the University of Florida so it all worked out well.”
Warmer than one might expect—temperatures average at least in the 50s from April thru September—putting on the spikes was more popular than lacing up the skates.
“Hockey wasn’t real big,” explained Ellis. “It’s started to get a little bit bigger now but when I was growing up, hockey wasn’t big in western South Dakota. It was basketball. It was football—a little bit of wrestling but my thing was basketball and baseball.”
Baseball was not a high school sport in Rapid City, so Ellis spent his summer playing ball for American Legion. “You played 70-75 games in the summer so it was kind of like a minor league schedule jammed into three and a half, four months. It was good baseball and you got to play every day and learned a lot.”
Ellis was a shortstop in those days and played behind David Eckstein for two seasons at the University of Florida.
“I learned a lot from him,” remembered Ellis. “He took me in. He was a junior and I was a freshman. It was great. Great guy to have on your side and I learned a lot from him.”
And now Ellis is hoping to follow in Eckstein’s footsteps again by helping the Cardinals reach the World Series.
“That’s why I’m here,” stated Ellis, who had offers from other teams to be a starter this offseason. “You look at your opportunities presented before you and I thought this was my best chance.”
A career .272 hitter, Ellis has appeared in eight games this Spring and is batting .300 (6-20).