From The Archives: Mark Teixeira Wins 2000 College Player of the Year Award

This article originally ran in a June 2000 issue of Baseball America magazine.

ATLANTA—Mark Teixeira makes his own decisions.

He’s the one who turned down the Red Sox, not some agent acting as his “adviser,” not his parents. He’s the one who picked Georgia Tech over Stanford, Miami, Clemson and Arizona State.

He’s the 20-year-old sophomore third baseman so mature, so together and so good, his Georgia Tech teammates voted him one of their three team captains.

“He’s so good, he really benefits everyone around him,” Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall says. “A lot of people choose not to pitch to Mark, which creates opportunities for the hitters around him. And if they get Mark out, it’s almost like they don’t concentrate as much.

“He wears the target on his back. He takes all the bullets for us. He really shoulders a lot of responsibility.”

At 6-foot-2, 218 pounds—with broad, muscular shoulders for all that responsibility—Teixeira wears the target well. His father John remembers a time when his son’s shoulders were a little smaller, but he was just as adept at making his own decisions.

“He came to us in eighth grade and said, ‘I want to go to Mount St. Joseph.’ We didn’t even know what it was,” the elder Teixeira says. “He explained it’s an all-boys Catholic school. We told him if he was going to do this, he’d have to get an academic scholarship. Otherwise, he was going to go to public school.

“I thought he was just too into sports to do it. But he worked hard on his academics that year and earned a 50 percent scholarship. He had a goal, and he worked hard to reach it. That showed a level of maturity I wasn’t expecting in an eighth grader.”

As mature as he is off the field, Mark Teixeira oozes maturity on it, from his plate approach to his reaction to wearing that target on his back. Teixeira drew 67 walks, just nine shy of former Yellow Jackets star Jason Varitek’s Atlantic Coast Conference record, set in 1994. He hasn’t let the wait at the plate bother him.

“I think definitely in conference play, everybody was scared to death of him,” Hall says. “I think the game plan was that he was the guy you wouldn’t let beat you. After what he did as a freshman and in the Cape Cod League, everybody lives in fear of him.”

And he’s Baseball America’s 2000 College Player of the Year, making him the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. He was selected by Baseball America in collaboration with voting conducted by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Teixeira earned the award as much with his presence as with his stats, but the numbers speak well for themselves. He was leading the ACC in average (.427) and home runs (18) but trailed teammate Bryan Prince in RBIs (80). Throw in the doubles (21) and walks, and Teixeira ended up with Ruthian slugging (.772) and on-base (.549) percentages. And he led the Yellow Jackets in stolen bases with 13.

The average and power are expected from a player unanimously voted the Cape Cod League’s top prospect last summer in a manager’s survey. The stolen bases, though, hint at Teixeira’s motivation. Set up a challenge, and he will knock it down.

In Baseball America’s 1998 draft preview, Teixeira read that scouts thought he had a “dead lower half.” It rankled him—still does, he says. It probably didn’t help that Red Sox scouting director Wayne Britton, talking to Teixeira after a high school game that spring, asked him to lift his uniform pants and then squeezed his legs, as if checking for the ripeness of his melon at Safeway.

“(Britton) said he wanted to make sure his legs were muscular,” says Mark’s mother Margie. “That kind of thing just motivates him.”

Teixeira has a field day rising to challenges, which endears him to baseball officials almost as much as his background. His father played baseball for Navy and his uncle Pete played for Florida and in the Braves organization. His mother is quick to point out that her side of the family has deep baseball roots as well. “What can I say,” she says, “it’s in his blood.”

Teixeira started swinging a bat as soon as he could walk, always from the right side. He was an accomplished hitter by age 10, but his dad thought it came too easily. That’s when he encouraged Mark to try switch-hitting.

“He was already playing up in age level, so I told him switch-hitting was the next step up for him to take,” John Teixeira says. “When he first started, he wasn’t comfortable, and he was just trying to put the bat on the ball. But I told him, ‘You need to be able to drive the ball from both sides of the plate, or it’s not worth it.’ “

Now nobody can say which is Teixeira’s better side. Teixeira says he sometimes sees the ball better from one side than the other, but he has the same swing from both sides.

“People talk about his power, but he’s not just a power hitter,” says Georgia College coach Don Norris, who coached Teixeira last summer with Orleans on the Cape. “He’s a hitter first. He’s a tough out no matter what you do, no matter how you pitch him.

“He came up here last year and struggled after getting off to a fast start. And he just took it as another challenge. He made every adjustment and had a great summer.”

Teixeira clearly has enjoyed his college baseball career. And why not? He’s the second sophomore to earn BA’s Player of the Year nod, joining Washington State’s John Olerud (1988). He looks forward to the chance to repeat in 2001, when he figures to be one of the first players picked in the draft.

Teixeira says he’s ready for the draft, and if he didn’t have to wait a year, he wouldn’t. “I’d be lying if I told you I was pleased with my defense the last two years,” Teixeira says, “but I think I’m ready for pro ball.” His parents agree that he’s ready, just as he was in 1998 out of high school.

That draft experience didn’t work out. Britton and the Red Sox expressed strong interest in drafting Teixeira, whose parents handled his negotiations. The family had a simple approach: Mark would sign if he got drafted in the first round. If not, he was headed for school.

The Teixeiras say that the Red Sox called on draft day, seeking a predraft deal. The family declined. Instead of being the 12th overall pick, Teixeira got labeled as a tough sign. He had to wait until the ninth round, when the Red Sox decided to pick him after all. Teixeira picked up the phone that day, called Hall and said, “Coach, I’m coming to school. Do you have some phone numbers for the other guys on the team who got drafted?”

Teixeira became Hall’s top recruiter. He called Victor Menocal, Rhett Parrott, Steve Kelly, and told them all he was coming to school and they should too. Now the three are Teixeira’s roommates and best friends. Teixeira had met his first challenge in college baseball and conquered it. Bring on another.

“I like to set challenges up for myself and fulfill them,” Teixeira says. “One of my goals this year was to be ACC player of the year, and I did that. I wanted our team to win the ACC and get back to regionals, and we did that.

“Now I’m ready for the next challenge.”

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