Thirty-seven year-old Mark Kotsay has done nearly everything that can be done in baseball. At Cal State Fullerton his team won the College World Series, and he was named MVP. He then played on the USA’s bronze medal-winning squad at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Kotsay’s professional career includes stints with seven teams. In 2011, his Milwaukee Brewers won the National League Central Division title and made it to the National League Championship Series, where they lost to the eventual World Series-champion St. Louis Cardinals.
One thing Kotsay has yet to accomplish is a World Series victory. He hopes that will change this season with the Padres, a team he returned to last season after playing for them 2001-2003. He believes that patience is a primary means through which a World Series victory would occur — and that patience enables us to achieve “a perfect work,” according to the First Letter of St. James.
Kotsay spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie in anticipation of the Padres’ first regular-season game of 2013, on April 1, against the New York Mets.
You’re entering your 17th season of professional baseball. What are you looking forward to this year?
I’ve already seen so much in my years of pro ball. I’ve played on teams with outstanding players, such as Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman and Jim Thome. I’ve also been fortunate to have very capable managers, from Jim Leyland at the beginning of my career to Bud Black today. In 2011, I was able to get to the postseason with the Brewers, and that was quite an experience.
One thing that’s left, though, is to win a World Series. In order to achieve something like that, you just have to do what you’re capable of doing, day in and day out. All the little steps along the journey are how you get there, not by one or two giant steps. After so many years, you learn to enjoy all the little steps along the way to the final goal.
Do you have favorite baseball memories from childhood?
Growing up in between Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium, I looked up to players like Rod Carew and Kirk Gibson. Gibson’s home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series remains a vivid memory.
There are so many memories from my own games, but the thing I appreciate most is having a father who wanted me to do well in life. He was determined to be a great father to me, to be there — not just in body, but in spirit. He wasn’t just filling a role; he was giving of his very self.
He wanted me to play baseball as well as I could, so he really pushed me to work at the game. I most likely wouldn’t be where I am today had he not raised me like he did. However, there is a fine line when it comes to competitiveness — too much of it can hurt you. My father and I both realized this during my sophomore year of high school. We found that a little distance was needed between the two of us in order for me to relax, play better and become more independent.
You won the Golden Spikes Award and were named the College World Series MVP at Cal State Fullerton. What stands out in your mind from that time in your life?
Those were very memorable years, but they started out being memorable for the wrong reasons. When I entered college, I was only 17, so the normal adjustments everyone makes were even more challenging for me.
When baseball season came around, I barely saw any playing time. I was very disappointed, but didn’t give up. I took stock of what was happening and determined what I needed to do to get where I wanted to be. It was a lesson in humility and patience — to accept my own shortcomings — and then do something about them. Everyone wants the playing time, wins and trophies, but few are willing to put in the work to get them.
I learned a great deal from Augie Garrido, who was the head coach at Fullerton during my years there. He wasn’t an overly pragmatic, get-the-win type of coach, but a philosopher-coach. He emphasized the fundamentals of the game and hard work. He wanted us to build a solid foundation from which to play well. There are many great college coaches, but I think Augie is the greatest of them all.
By the time I left college, things had changed quite dramatically from my freshman year. I was a starter on great teams, including one that took home a College World Series trophy. I was fortunate to win some personal awards, and then I got to play on the bronze medal-winning team at the Olympic Games in 1996.
Has the Catholic faith always been an important part of your life?
I was baptized a Baptist, but would sometimes attend Mass growing up. I always had a respect for religion in general and Catholicism in particular, but it wasn’t until I met my future wife that I became Catholic. I started going to Mass with her regularly in early 2000, and we were married later that year.
The Mass is the thing I appreciate most about being Catholic. No matter where you travel in the world, the Mass is always there. It’s the centerpiece of the Catholic faith, the thing that unites us as believers. The unbroken tradition from the time of the apostles is a beautiful thing, something that shows very clearly God’s love for us.
There is so much grace for us to get from the Mass, but it’s up to us to decide whether we’re going to utilize it in our everyday lives. It’s not enough just to be there; we need to realize that what’s being given is vital to living a virtuous life. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, our lives will change through the Mass.
How does your faith affect your play?
The easy part of playing sports is being aggressive. That’s very straightforward, and everyone — from little kids to adults — knows that aggression is necessary to get the job done. However, something that’s much more subtle, but no less helpful, is to be patient.
I’ve known the value of patience since my college years. Things didn’t go my way initially, so I had the choice of getting angry or accepting adversity. Anger seems like the best choice, but that route actually makes achieving your goal less likely. Being angry means being out of control and counterproductive, but being patient means exercising self-control and putting yourself in a position to get things done.
In Proverbs 16:32, it says: “A patient man is better than a warrior, and he who rules his temper [is better] than he who takes a city.” That initial aggression is fine, but you have to temper it with the discipline found in patience. It is much more challenging to be patient, but it’s also better than being a warrior or conquering a city. With patience, you conquer yourself — and once you’ve done that, you can do anything else.
It’s easier to be patient with the help of the sacraments, sacramentals and the prayers of the Church. Being patient is also easier with the help of a loving wife like mine. She helps me to be patient not only while playing baseball, but, more importantly, while raising our kids. She understands them better and is more compassionate toward them than I am. That’s what mothers excel at — helping with all the little quirks of kids that tend to drive fathers crazy.
Have you encountered other Catholics in the major leagues?
It’s become more common to have practicing Catholics around the majors. More teams have priests available for Mass. That used to be a rarity, but now it’s not unusual.
Probably the most inspiring Catholic baseball player I know is Mike Sweeney. Even though we never played on the same team, we were able to meet up during batting practice and other situations around the games. We share the same core values and have a lot of other things in common.
Mike is a leader in getting the message out that the Catholic Church is the place to be. He knows that other churches have good things in them, but they got all those things from the Catholic Church. The Bible is probably the most obvious example.
Thousands of different denominations talk about how their interpretation of the Bible is the right one, but the fact that we got the Bible from the Catholic Church is overlooked. If we just acknowledged that, we’d know where to go to get the right interpretation.
Mike knows there’s so much misinformation about the Church out there, so he’s a big advocate of Catholic Answers, based in San Diego. It’s also a reason why he conducted his first Catholic baseball camp last summer. Mike is a firm believer that if you want the entire teaching of Christ, then the Catholic Church is the place to get it.
Do you find regular opportunities to share the faith while playing baseball?
There are plenty of ways to share the faith in baseball or in any other endeavor. It doesn’t have to be teaching the entire Catechism; it can just be a simple “God bless you” or an invitation to Mass.
Some players point to the sky after hitting a home run or making a great throw, and that’s perfectly fine. One thing to consider, though, is whether they’d point to the sky after striking out or throwing the ball past the first baseman.
I like to acknowledge God no matter what happens, so making the Sign of the Cross in the batter’s box is part of my hitting routine. That way, I’m stating my faith in God — regardless of what happens in the upcoming at-bat. If it’s a hit, great; if not, that’s great, too.
An “unsuccessful” at-bat is another opportunity to exercise patience. In James 1:4, it says, “Let patience have its perfect work.” You accept things not going your way, and, at the same time, you embrace that cross God has sent you. You’re transcending self and affirming God, all in one act of patience.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.