Mark Ellis quietly retired last week as one of the best defensive second baseman of all time. (5th best all time fielding percentage.) Mark not only was a solid player on both sides of the ball, but he was refreshing as a stoic gamer in an era of clowns and sideshow men who hang on because of beards, salaries, tattoos, bobble heads and other assorted bric-a-brac. Mark was a real throw-back with a refreshing demeanor…play the game well without the nonsense.
I first encountered Mark in 2001. I was living in Sacramento at the time and the AAA River Cats were brand-spanking-new and the talk of the town. I, being a Oakland fan, thought I was dreaming as I lived mere blocks from their newly opened ballpark. I would walk or bike to the games after work more often than not with my girlfriend at the time, and he was one of our favorite players.
One of my favorite ballpark moments happened with Ellis–a simple moment, yet mere months before he was traded and never to be seen in an Athletics uniform again. It was Opening Day 2011 at the Coliseum. My girlfriend and I had long since taken separate paths…and I was by the dugout when I saw Mark and gave him but he sharpest nod as I threw him a baseball with all the zeal I could from 30 feet away. He caught it with one hand, signed it, and as fast as he has received it he fired it back to me as I caught it with one hand as well in a quickly forgotten moment of Zen mastery. The triangle was complete.
It’s easy to choose your baseball heroes…yet sometimes the universe chooses them for you in an act of randomness, justification, existentialism, stupefied vocation or something unspoken and equally nonsensical. Mine just happened to be one of the greatest second baseman of all time.