Fourth big leaguer becomes Alumni Patron
11 October 2017
The fourth Australian of the modern era to have progressed to Major League Baseball, Mark Ettles has kindly agreed to be Australian Baseball Alumni patron for the 2017/18 year – succeeding former teammate and fellow big league pitcher Graeme Lloyd.
While his MLB career was relatively short-lived – just fourteen games at the pinnacle of the sport – Mark Ettles continued to play at a high level, spending quality mound time with Perth Heat in the original Australian Baseball League before representing his country at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He is another of our outstanding baseball products who achieved elite success and who has embraced the Alumni concept for its capacity to help promote the sport and mentor younger players.
Accepting our invitation to come on board as Alumni patron, Mark Ettles made some fascinating observations about his own sporting journey, about opportunities for young players, about experience-based learning and about the future of Australian baseball.
Born in Western Australia, right-armed pitcher Mark Ettles completed his secondary schooling Down Under before spending four years at college in United States - where he was drafted by Detroit Tigers out of University of West Florida in 1989.
Released after two seasons in the Tigers Minor League system, he was signed by San Diego in 1991 and ultimately made his Major League debut with the Padres two years later. That achievement was followed by an Australian Baseball League stint with Perth Heat during the late nineties before representation for Australia as a 34-year old at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“The whole journey as a young player to my last game in the Sydney Olympics has left me with experiences I will never forget,” Mark Ettles told Australian Baseball Alumni just recently.
“The highlights of my career – Under 18 Australian team, College-NAIA World Series, professional ball, San Diego Padres, the Australian Olympic team - are all mighty memorable,” he said.
“Of them all, perhaps my most vivid recollection was the period from when I was called in to the team office and told I was headed for San Diego next morning. Then calling my parents and telling them the news before an interrupted night’s sleep. The next day walking in to Jack Murphy stadium as a player, and finally pitching in my first Major League game that night.”
“Striking out my first batter faced, and recording a 1–2-3 inning for the Padres is a very fond memory that I know will stay with me forever.”
“That entry to Major League baseball was a unique feeling and an experience that I would wish on every young ballplayer,” Ettles said. “It gave real meaning to what I had been doing in the sport since I started out as a kid.”
“The whole experience of becoming a ballplayer is teaching you – among many things - how to deal with your everyday life,” he continued. “To be able to take determination, concentration, passion, individuality and teamwork into all of your daily practices makes life somewhat easier – whatever you do. Being a ballplayer taught me how to create dreams, overcome obstacles, and see positive outcomes. Baseball taught me how to be humble in times of success and how to be determined and focused in challenging times.”
Appearing in fourteen games for San Diego during the 1993 MLB season, Ettles pitched eighteen innings for a win and an ERA of 6.50 before stints in the Padres Minor League system and with Somerset Patriots in the Independent Atlantic League. Although afflicted with injuries throughout his career, Ettles was nevertheless able to reach the highest level in professional baseball – an achievement he attributes to positive attitudes and strategies that he recommends to any person striving for success in baseball, in business or any other field of endeavour.
“Young players embarking into the world of baseball need to have a dream and need to have something to strive for,” he said. “Stay focussed on that dream, make short term goals, and have an unwavering desire and belief that you are the best in your chosen position. Prepare to be a sponge, take in all the information you can and select what is best for you to help realise your dream. Have a strong work ethic and always have something in the reserve tank to draw on when you need it.”
Fortunate enough to have played with and against some of the all-time greats of the Australian Baseball League in its nineties heyday, Ettles looks back on that era with real fondness.
Mark Ettles with the late, great Greg Jelks
“The early years of the ABL were exciting,” he said. “I loved playing for the Perth Heat and help build the aura of that new era for baseball in Australia. The fact that we had one of the only baseball designed grounds in Australia - at Parry Field - helped create a great atmosphere. We were always competing at the pointy end of the competition and with the initiation of the Asian Series, we felt that we were at the top of innovative baseball in Australia.”
“We were also drawing more spectators than Western Australian cricket at the time.”
“Being pushed out of Parry Field and shuffled around was a setback. There were issues across the league and negative feeling around baseball in the rest of the country really set in,” he said. “Fortunately, much of the excitement is back with the new league and the standard of Australian baseball seems to have really improved - so we will hopefully see only positive results in the near future.”
Participation at the 2000 Sydney Olympics was the crowning baseball highlight for Mark Ettles after what he modestly describes as “a motley career filled with injuries”. Although his own performance at the Sydney tournament was solid enough, Ettles shared the feelings of many who were disappointed with the Australian team effort of just two wins from seven games after the euphoria of our Intercontinental Cup success in Sydney just the previous year.
“I felt greatly honoured to be picked as a player for Sydney 2000,” Ettles said.
“As a team we felt we had a real opportunity to be in the medal rounds, although I was not content with the way I performed. While I cannot speak for the team, all in all we were not satisfied with our finish - which directly, in my opinion, led to a much stronger and more determined performance at the Athens Olympics.”
“At the time of the Sydney Olympics, baseball in Australia was in a transition stage,” he reflected. “Many young players were being exposed to the professionalism of American baseball and the leadership staff were also beginning to understand what needed to be done to compete as a premium baseball nation.”
“Even now, Australian baseball and Australian players are still evolving and morphing into what the American culture has built over many years,” he said. “We are great athletes and we have a wonderful ability to adapt to situations. This is shown time and again as we have more and more players entering the professional system and competing competently with young Americans who are born into a baseball culture and lifestyle.”
Current Australian Manager Jon Deeble – who had taken the reins of the national senior team prior to the 2000 Olympics – remembers Mark Ettles as “a great teammate and a really funny guy”.
“I knew him as a really fierce competitor both in the Australian Baseball League and with the national squad,” Deeble told Australian Baseball Alumni.
“Although he was injured a fair bit along the way, he had a tremendous split finger fastball and he dominated in pro ball and at Australian national level.”
These days living in the south of France for much of the year and working as a captain of private motor yachts, Mark Ettles has retained an abiding interest in Major League baseball, in the fortunes of Australian Baseball League, in our national teams and the opportunities generated – and earned - by our emerging young players.
“I guess that baseball has been infused into my blood,” he said. “Even though I have limited direct contact with what is happening in Australia, I still get excited with the results that our local ballplayers are achieving. And of course I love to watch the MLB and see how far it has come and what amazing feats they are accomplishing these days.”
“The people I have met and the places I have seen through baseball will always be with me. Although living in France, I still have access to information on what Australians are achieving. It is a sport that is expanding globally and this will always invite new players from markets like Australia – which is producing so many promising players. The sport grows every day and this improves the management, which in turn improves the performance of players.”
His life experiences have taught Mark Ettles some invaluable lessons that he is keen to pass on to younger players as a mentor and an Alumni Patron who dedicated years to his baseball career while developing and refining his capacities to make the very best of his opportunities - even after his professional sporting career had come to an end.
“Life goes on,” he said, “and I have chosen a different path.”
“I have been an observer of baseball at home and overseas, but not with the same intensity as used to be the case – although I know that some things never change,” he said. “As with any sport or occupation or skill, the more you do it the better you are at it. When it becomes second nature and you don’t have to think about it and what you should do in a certain situation, you react differently and usually with a better outcome.”
“Therefore the more time you put into an activity, the better you will be at it. And if there are more facilities becoming available – like the Academy back home - where young players can go to practise, learn, listen, and absorb what it takes to become a professional in their chosen field, they will become better players and maybe their dreams will become their reality.”
“To start the process at a young age and pass through all the levels, then eventually you will have better ballplayers,” Ettles said. “I see in America that the kids are totally immersed in the culture of baseball. This ignites a small flame that eventually turns into a bushfire. In the Latino nations, it is a way out of the dangerous lives they lead. We have a good life in Australia with little need for change. But if you want to be among the best, if you want to compete against the best, then you have to be totally single-minded in what you want to achieve.”
“Above all, you have to fall in love with the game of baseball,” he said.
“I took what skills I had and the body I was blessed with and went to war with them,” Mark Ettles continued. “I was representing myself as a person, for my family, my local club, my state of Western Australia and my country. I am proud of what I achieved in the sport and I hope have served the good of all ballplayers with honour.”
“I spent only a limited time in the Major Leagues playing a game I put my heart, soul and life into,” he said. “The journey to that place of monuments – and legends - was a long, sweaty and painful ride. The joy at the end will not happen for everybody, but if you can walk away - like me - knowing that you gave everything, then you are likely to have set the base for a fulfilling and peaceful life.”
“The life skills I learnt from baseball allowed me to make the transition from the glamorous stuff as a Major League ballplayer to life after professional sport a relatively easy and comfortable one.”
“I am more than happy to accept the role of Patron for Australian Baseball Alumni,” he said. “It is an honour to be offered this position, and one that I would have never thought bestowed on me when I was a junior baseball player finding my way in the sport.”
Australia Baseball Alumni is delighted to have Mark Ettles as our Patron for the 2017/18 year. We thank him sincerely for his assistance with this story tracing his own baseball journey, one which we trust may serve as an inspiration for young players aspiring to achieve at the highest levels in their chosen sport.
The upcoming Australian Baseball Alumni membership year will run from 1 November 2017 until 31 October 2018. We urge all baseball-minded people, whatever their background in the sport, to renew or to take out Alumni membership – and to encourage others to do so.
Your membership will directly assist us in our endeavours to help promote the sport while providing guidance, mentoring and support for our emerging young Australian baseball players.
Mark Ettles at work in 2017