Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess leaves lasting impact
STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess sat silently as his Bay Area colleagues took turns at the podium listing off his accomplishments, praising his character and talking about the indelible impact Marquess has had on college baseball.
As Marquess prepares for his 41st and final season as head coach for the Cardinal before heading into retirement, he seems to be the only one who wants to keep the focus solely on the diamond.
“I’ve put it on the back burner,” Marquess said this week, just days before Stanford opens the season Friday with a series at Cal-State Fullerton. “There will be plenty of time at the end for reflection on it. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, like today, which was very nice. But I’ve really tried to immerse myself in the season.”
The praise for Marquess is well-deserved. His 1,585 career wins rank third all-time, he has won two titles in his 14 career trips to the College World Series, led the U.S. to the 1988 Olympic gold medal and sent 60 former players to the majors.
He has done it all while maintaining his commitment to academics and a strong work ethic that he has passed on to his hundreds of players.
“He’s had as big an impact on college baseball as coach (Mike) Krzyzewski has had on college basketball,” San Francisco coach Nino Giarratano said. “It’s just that college baseball doesn’t get the notoriety that college basketball gets. This has been a man that has taught us all how to build a program at a private university and do it well. This was just a piece of land when he took it over. He built it.”
No detail was too small in the process. He focuses on everything from how players wear their uniforms to the way they get on and off the field.
The players are responsible for grounds keeping at Sunken Diamond and no job is beneath Marquess, who has been known to clean bathrooms, empty trash cans or do whatever is needed for the program.
“He was intense,” said Ed Sprague, who played under Marquess on two College World Series champions and in the Olympics before a successful career in the majors. “He pushed us to the limit. We had our battles for sure. One of the things he’s known for is getting the most out of his players, teaching you how to hone your skills.”
He does that any way he can.
Cal coach David Esquer, who played and coached under Marquess, told one story that epitomized his former coach’s career. Back in 1987 after a lackluster series, Marquess took out some cones and had his players run suicide-style drills on a nearby field.
He then told his players all he asked is they play as hard as they ran those cones. A few months later, Stanford won its first College World Series.
“At the end of the year, we mounted a cone and signed it and we had a plaque on there that said, ‘All I ask is you play the game the same way that you ran these cones.’ That’s the example,” Esquer said. “The message isn’t always delivered how you want when you’re young. But you need discipline and direction.”
Marquess, who turns 70 next month, announced last spring that this would be his final year as coach after spending 50 years on The Farm at Stanford as a player, assistant and head coach.
After a 31-23 record last year, Marquess has an experienced team capable of making it back to the NCAA tournament with seven returning position player starters, the entire rotation back and most of the bullpen.
The Cardinal are ranked in the Top 25 in all five major preseason polls and picked second in the Pac-12 for the final season under the coach nicknamed “9” for his uniform number.
“We’ve kind of embraced it,” reliever Colton Hock said. “One thing you’d say over his 41 years is his endurance as coach and sticking to the same things, his ethic and his moral code. It comes down on us. We’re excited to go out there, embrace 9’s last year and be a special part of it.”
For Marquess, deciding whether the season is special won’t be determined by how many games the Cardinal win or if they make it to Omaha for the College World Series or if his players get drafted.
He has always had a much simpler metric, which is did he get the most out of his team. More often than not, he did just that.
“For everyone else, it’s all about how many guys are in the big leagues,” Marquess said. “But there are a lot of life lessons you learn from playing athletics and our student-athletes learn that. I’m very proud of that. That’s the key.”
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