Even if the California coaches and players don’t know much about Coastal Carolina leadoff hitter Anthony Marks just yet, the Golden Bears will likely become plenty familiar with the feisty junior by the end of the teams’ NCAA Regionals opener Friday.
To put it nicely, Marks has that effect on teams.
And that aggressive, no-off-switch, at times brash attitude he brings to the field goes a long way to explaining the effect he’s had on the Chanticleers this spring, as he’s played a leading role in Coastal Carolina’s rebound from a forgettable 2014 season to turn in a highly memorable 2015 campaign.
One that has the program back in the NCAA postseason after a one-year absence with an opening game awaiting Friday afternoon against the Bears at Texas A&M’s Blue Bell Park.
“Anthony has been the energizer bunny guy that bounces around. He’s the little guy that’s got the chip on his shoulder that is going to show us how to win and how to beat the big schools,” Chants coach Gary Gilmore said this week.
“Anthony has taken it upon himself to challenge his teammates, to [say], ‘Watch how I play, emulate me, this is how we’ve got to get it done. We’ve got to take it to them. We can’t wait for somebody to do it. Each guy’s got to do it.’ There’s no doubt in my mind we would not be where we’re sitting right now if it wasn’t for him.”
Marks comes into the NCAA Regionals leading the team with a .351 batting average and 58 runs scored to go with a .432 on-base percentage, 24 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 25 attempts.
Again, though, the numbers don’t really sum up Marks’ presence or impact on the field.
If by the end of the game he’s managed to turn not only the opposing team but the opposing fans against him, well, that’s all part of a day’s work as well.
“Oh, they all hate him,” Gilmore said of opponents. “They all hate him, but they’d be the first [to say], ‘I’d take him, he can be in my dugout any day.’ He’s that guy you don’t want to play against. If you play against him, you hate his guts, but you respect him because he’s a really good player and he really plays hard. He lets his emotions out, which is the fun thing about college. …
“Heck, it jacks up the other team when they get him out and he thrives on the fact that they put so much attention into trying to get him out.”
Said junior teammate Tyler Chadwick: “He’s definitely a kid you’re glad is on your team. If we were playing against him, he’d ruffle our feathers too a little bit. But definitely glad he’s on our team. He sets the tone every game.”
That’s all part of the plan, Marks explains. The chirping, the irking of the other team, whatever he can do to become a distraction in the opposing players’ heads, he considers part of his duty as the Chants’ spark plug.
“I like to try to bring that edge, that competitive edge and a lot of times I try and ruffle with the opponents,” he said. “A lot of times when we play, they get more worried about what I’m doing and where I’m at and if I get out than worrying about [Michael] Paez or [Connor Owings] coming up next. I feel that opens up stuff for them too. … I’m trying to just throw them off their game a little bit.”
The game that most comes to mind for him in that regard was the series opener at High Point in mid April.
The Chants scored five runs in the eighth inning that night to erase a two-run deficit on the way to a 6-4 win. Marks was 3-for-5 with two runs scored, including the first run in that decisive eighth inning.
“We took the lead and at one point I tried to bunt and I missed it and the crowd was going crazy for one strike so I knew I was in everybody’s head a little bit,” he recalled proudly. “People like that normally don’t cheer for just a strike, so that’s when I knew I’m in their head a little bit. It honestly makes you feel a little good too.”
To understand Marks’ mentality, it’s best to start with his background.
Telling the story while taking a quick break in the dugout Thursday after batting practice, he said that coming out of Montour High School outside of Pittsburgh, he had only two colleges reaching out to him with interest in his baseball services – a Division III offer and a local NAIA program.
His summer baseball coach had played for Gilmore at USC-Aiken, though, and Marks was able to turn that connection into a preferred walk-on spot with the Chants, which is all the opening he needed in the doorway to Division I baseball.
“A lot of people told me, even back home, ‘I don’t think you should go D1. You’re not going to fit in there. You’re not going to be good enough to play at that level,’” Marks recalled. “I was really more just trying to get that chance no matter when it came. If it came senior year or if it came freshman year, I was just going to be ready to go whenever I got it. So I was just happy I got the chance.”
That chance came late last season as he started 15 games as a sophomore and earned key playing time down the stretch.
What he’s done this year, though, has been nothing short of a breakout for the 5-foot-8, 170-pound junior outfielder.
As Gilmore said, for whatever Marks has done to get under the skin of opposing teams, he also earns their respect as the Big South coaches voted him first-team all-conference.
He ranks 29th nationally with 58 runs scored and 47th in Division I with 80 hits. Perhaps most impressively, he has reached base safely in 53 of 57 games this season while collecting at least one hit in 48 of those games.
All the while learning to channel that inner fire in a productive way – most of the time, at least.
“He’s come a long way. That young man has come a million miles in his time here,” Gilmore said. “He had to grow up. He has a real fine line between controlling his emotions and letting them get the best of him. …
“[But] he’s doing this year what I had hoped he would be able to do last year all year long. The last 15-20 games [of 2014] he showed you that there was really something special there. And he went off in the summer with a mission to have a great summer, to prove to me basically that he could be the guy in the outfield for us.”
For his part, Marks says he judges his success by what the team has accomplished, and so by any metric, it’s been a special season for him.
“The numbers and the year I’m having is great, but honestly I’m just happy I can finally impact the program a little bit and help the team win some ballgames,” he said. “Honestly, that’s my no. 1 priority.”
Seeing it all come together for the junior outfielder, Gilmore said his biggest regret is burning Marks’ redshirt by choosing to play him in a limited role during in his true freshman season, leaving him only one more year of eligibility. But that’s a thought for down the road.
This season isn’t over yet, and that certainly won’t be on Marks’ mind this weekend with his live in the moment approach to the game. And if he has it his way, he’ll be the one very much on the mind of California’s coaches and players Friday.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.
Marks By the Numbers