Story by Joseph Wakelee-Lynch
Mark Teahen, a rookie third baseman for the Kansas City Royals and former All-West Coast Conference player at Saint Mary's, sits relaxed and composed in the visiting team's clubhouse before a game in early May against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. About four hours before the first pitch, the atmosphere borders on chaos: televisions blaring, teammates noisily taunting one another, soda carts rolling through the locking room, and a small infielder in street clothes - out of breath and an hour late - rushing toward his locker.
Teahen has dreamed of being in a room like this for most of his life. Yet, he doesn't appear in awe of having reached his goal. Quietly confident, he answers questions thoughtfully and easily. And he laughs readily, as when he remembers kids occasionally asking him for an autograph when he was a minor league player while mistaking him for someone else. This rookie seems right at home.
Teahen grew up some 70 miles east of Los Angeles, in Yucaipa, Calif., where he played Wiffle ball with his two brothers in their backyard and learned baseball from their father.
"My dad was my hitting coach and my baseball coach all the way through high school," Teahen says. "He still calls me today and says, 'I was watching the game and saw this or that.'"
As Teahen approached the end of high school, only Saint Mary's considered him promising enough to offer a full scholarship.
"He was so mature, that was one of the reasons we recruited him," recalls Ted Turkington, a Saint Mary's coach at the time, now head coach at St. Ignatius Prep in San Francisco. "His make-up was as important as anything he did physically."
Once Teahen took the field for the Gaels, his ability was hard to miss. As a sophomore in 2001, he led the team in batting average and total hits. In 2002, Teahen not only had the highest batting average on the team, he also led the conference, hitting .412. He was a unanimous selection for the All-WCC First Team. Teahen was the 39th player selected in the June 2002 major league draft, picked by the Oakland Athletics. No Gael had been such a high selection since outfielder Mike Young was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in 1980.
In the minors, Teahen continued to excel. In his second year, 2003, he batted .289 with 71 runs batted in (RBIs). During the 2004 season, he moved up to the highest minor-league level and was named the top prospect in the minors by one baseball publication. He also was the first recipient of the Dernell Stensen AFL Sportsmanship Award, given by Major League Baseball, and he was rated the top defensive player at his position. Clearly a player with a future, Teahen was sought by the Kansas City Royals, who landed him in a trade with the Athletics in June 2004.
This year, Teahen became a starter for the Royals, a team that has struggled since Opening Day. Teahen himself missed several games with back problems early in the season, and his batting average hovered around .240. Landing a spot on a major league roster doesn't mean he's reached the pinnacle, says Teahen. His job now is to learn as much as he can and continue to build his skills.
"One thing I've noticed since I've been here," Teahen remarks, "is that it's easier to make the big leagues than it is to stay in the big leagues. Once you're here, the work continues. I used to think to myself, 'Oh, I've got to make the big leagues.' But once I made it, I realized that there is still a lot of work to do."
If Teahen hasn't been tearing up the league in his first few weeks, it hasn't dimmed the confidence of one of his coaches. Luis Silverio, Royals infield coach, remains convinced of Teahen's future in the game.
"You can go to a big school and sit around for two years and hopefully play in your junior year, whereas if you go to Saint Mary's, you'll have that opportunity to play right away and learn on the fly."
Silverio says Teahen's size and skills remind him of another excellent third baseman, Troy Glaus of the Arizona Diamondbacks. But some of Teahen's other qualities may serve him even better.
"This kid has natural instinct, and, to me, this is what takes him to this level," says the coach. "Instinct, great feet, great arm - and his knowledge of baseball is very impressive for a young kid - he's a great kid."
High expectations are nothing new in Teahen's young career. He's been in a brighter spotlight than most hot prospects. Teahen featured prominently in Michael Lewis' Moneyball, a best-selling baseball book. He was also the subject of a cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in April, just weeks into his big-league career. To others, that might add up to an extreme, not to mention uncomfortable, level of scrutiny.
But, Teahen denies that he feels any more pressure as a big-leaguer.
"I always say, there is not any more pressure put on me than what I already put on myself," he explains.
Although it's still too soon say what kind of baseball career Teahen will have, he already seems mature and ready for what will come. He attributes that not just to his father but also to his coaches at Saint Mary's.
"John Baptista, Ted Turkington, and Joe Millette all saw something in me that other schools didn't. All of those guys really helped me," he says.
Teahen believes his entire Saint Mary's experience was, and remains, important.
"A lot of things at Saint Mary's prepared me for now. Going to Saint Mary's and getting away from home prepared me for living on my own, and being able to make new friends in a new environment. I think the whole Saint Mary's atmosphere was good for me. Seminar, where you have to read books and talk about your opinions, is beneficial now in working with coaches. The baseball program there struggled a little bit when I was there, and that's helping me now to deal with defeat."
As a student, Teahen rarely felt he had time for activities outside of class work and baseball. The college baseball season is long, and away games often require three-day trips. Despite busy athletic and academic schedules, there was one thing Teahen especially enjoyed and made time for.
"I definitely went to the Sunday night Mass, and that's one thing I really remember about Saint Mary's," he says. "I thought that was one of the coolest things about going there, because it was such a neat atmosphere."
Teahen's faith remains important to him, and, with the help of two of his teammates, he has found a church in Kansas City - again, one with a late Sunday Mass.
When he was drafted, Teahen skipped his final year of college. Nonetheless, he plans to finish his degree, partly out of pride and because he knows he'll need it. He hopes to go into sports management after his playing career. Returning to the classroom doesn't intimidate him, though. In addition to his athletic honors, Teahen was named to the 2002 spring all-academic team in the WCC.
Now that he's been out of college for a few years, Teahen looks back fondly on his decision to attend Saint Mary's. And even though the Saint Mary's baseball program doesn't yet have the visibility of Cal State Fullerton, Stanford, or Cal State Long Beach, his was a path he'd recommend to others.
"For me, Saint Mary's was perfect because it was a Division 1 school, and it was small,"Teahen explains. "I didn't feel that I'd just be a number there. You can go to a big school and sit around for two years and hopefully play in your junior year, whereas if you go to Saint Mary's, you'll have that opportunity to play right away and learn on the fly. It was definitely beneficial to me to play a full three years."
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Silverio, Teahen's coach, agreed. He thinks ball players have to be as strong mentally as they are talented physically, and a college experience like Teahen's is a way to develop those qualities.
"When you start playing college baseball, it's close to playing Double A," Silverio says. "For Teahen, a kid who has all the tools and all the abilities necessary, it was easy for him to play a couple of years of professional baseball and then come to the major leagues and be able to do all the fundamentals correctly. You can see that he was well-advanced."
A moment later, Silverio adds, "He's a hard-worker, a very dedicated young man. He's focused and he's become a pretty good baseball player. I think this kid is going to be in the major leagues for a long time."
Note: At press time, Teahen was batting .251 as a regular in the Royals lineup.