Practice makes perfect. So what do you do if you're a perfectionist? For Mark Teixeira, that's an easy one. You practice even more. Pegged for stardom as a kid and pushed along by a baseball-mad family, Mark was on the fast track until a not-so-perfect turn of events nearly derailed his major league ambitions. In 2009, the big switch-hitter landed with the New York Yankees, where he turned out to be—what else?—a perfect fit with a championship-winning team. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Mark Teixeira was born on April 11, 1980, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His mother, Margy, was a school teacher. His father, John (known as “Tex” to his friends), was a former Navy officer who worked as a manager for an aerospace firm. The family resided in Severna Park, an upper middle-class suburb of Baltimore bounded by the Magothy and Severn rivers in Anne Arundel County.

Baseball was part of the culture of the Teixeira family. Margy’s brothers had been good players, as had her father. Tex starred for Navy in college, and his brother, Pete, played at Florida State and then for several years in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Margy and Tex dressed their son in baseball uniforms as an infant and toddler, and gave him a glove when he was one. By his fourth birthday, he was hitting, fielding and throwing with ease and confidence. A year later, he had made up his mind about what he wanted to be when he grew up: He was going to be a major leaguer.

Mark was a perfectionist. He demanded more of himself than his parents did—which is saying something, considering their backgrounds. Blessed with a sharp mind and a strong body, he maximized his performance in the classroom and on the athletic field, tirelessly studying and practicing, and excelling at virtually everything he tried.

Mark lived in an area where the spring sport of choice is lacrosse, not baseball. Of course, the Orioles played nearby, so he was hardly alone in rooting for Cal Ripken, Jr. Mark was also an Eddie Murray fan. In fact, the Baltimore first sacker was his inspiration as a switch-hitter.

Mark’s favorite player, however, was Don Mattingly, the All-Star first baseman for the Yankees. He has worn number 23 in his honor ever since.

One of Mark’s neighborhood friends was Mike Floyd. The Floyds lived on the next block—their front door was visible from the Teixeira’s backyard. Mike was a good hitter and outfielder who matched Mark in high school and ended up attending the University of South Carolina. His little brother, Gavin, was even better. The Philadelphia Phillies selected him with the fourth pick in the 2001 draft. (Mark was taken by the Texas Rangers in the next slot. What are the odds? Not very good. They were the first Baltimore-area players ever tabbed in the first round.)

In 1994, Mark enrolled at Mount St. Joseph, a private high school in Catonville. He made coach Dave Norton’s varsity baseball squad as a freshman. After seeing sporadic time in his first year, he enjoyed three solid seasons as the team’s third baseman. In 1996, the sophomore earned his first of three Baltimore All-Metro selections. In 1997, Mark hit .518 with 10 home runs in 40 games and was honored as Maryland’s top junior by USA Baseball.

Following the '97 campaign, Mark joined an American Legion squad and experienced his greatest baseball moment when he belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to cap an 11-run comeback in a state playoff game. That summer, competing in a handful of leagues and tournaments, he batted .492 and compiled a staggering 105 RBIs.

By his senior year, Mark was a monster. He stood 6-2 and weighed well over 200 pounds. When he hit a ball, it sounded as if it were shot out of a cannon. Mark hammered opposing pitchers to the tune of a .548 batting average with 12 homers and 36 RBIs. He also got it done in school, graduating 12th in his class.

Needless to say, Mark was recruited by a number of top baseball programs. He eventually decided on Georgia Tech. He hadunderstanding with coach Danny Hall, however. Mark would turn pro if he were a high draft choice.

The Boston Red Sox, picking 12th, showed the most intense interest. Club officials told Mark and his parents that they planned to grab him in the first round. The Teixeiras could not have been happier. Prior to Mark’s birth, they had lived in Maine and rooted for the BoSox. Scouting Director Wayne Britton let Mark and his family know that the team planned to offer a signing bonus of $1.5 million. The family, which was being advised by Scott Boras, informed Britton that they thought this number was a little light.


 

 

 


Don Mattingly postcard

     
 

The Red Sox, in turn, circulated a message around the baseball world, suggesting that Mark was definitely college-bound. The implication was that no one should waste a pick on him. The strategy worked. On draft day, Mark followed the proceedings on the Internet, expecting to see his name pop up when the Red Sox went in the first round—or by some other team some time shortly thereafter. When Boston’s spot came, they took University of South Carolina star Adam Everett instead.

Round after round, Mark’s name went uncalled. He was heartbroken. Finally, after more than 250 players were off the board, the Red Sox took him in the ninth round.

Despite being submarined, the Teixeiras were willing to deal. Boston put the same deal on the table. When Mark’s dad asked Britton if he could speak with Dan Duquette, he was told the GM would never call—it was a take-it-or-leave-it deal. At this moment, any thought of playing for the Red Sox ended. Mark then called Coach Hall and committed to the Yellow Jackets. Ten weeks later, he packed his bags and headed south to begin a storied college career.

ON THE RISE

Attending Georgia Tech turned out to be the best decision of Mark’s life. It was heaven for him. When he wasn’t in class or honing his baseball skills, he worked on his golf game. Granted, campus life did not erase the sting of the Red Sox episode, but it came close.

Mark had a great freshman year, batting .387 (5th in the ACC) with 13 homers, 65 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 13 tries. His .640 slugging average and .478 on-base percentage led the Yellow Jackets. Recognized as the top college freshman by Collegiate Baseball, he was the only first-year player named All-ACC First Team. Unfortuanly, his outstanding campaign didn't put Georgia Tech over the top. At 38-20 record, the Yellow Jackets were not quite good enough for a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Mark followed up his freshman season with a huge year in 2000. He led the ACC in batting (.427), slugging (.772), on-base percentage (.547), home runs (18), and runs scored (104). Mark, in fact, just missed the conference Triple Crown, trailing teammate Jason Basil by three RBIs. He also topped the nation with 67 walks and hit over .400 from both sides of the plate—an exceedingly rare feat for a young Division I player. Mark was the talk of college baseball and a near-unanimous selection as National Player of the Year.

Georgia Tech finished 50-16, won the ACC title, and blew through the NCAA Regionals with three straight wins. Unfortunately, the Yellow Jackets stumbled in Omaha, as USC bounced them out of the College World Series.

Over the summer, Mark suited up for the Maryland Battlecats of the Clark Griffith League, a 20-and-under circuit. He tore it up against some pretty fair competition. In one memorable game he belted three home runs. As he rounded the bases, he received salutes from the opposing team’s infielders.

Mark also played for Team USA that summer, leading the squad in batting, runs, RBIs and total bases. Assuming he would represent his country in the Olympics that September, Mark was deeply disappointed when USA Baseball decided to use professionals instead of amateurs.

Mark's plan was to put in one more year at Georgia Tech and then go pro. But disaster struck seven games into his junior season. In a contest against Elon College, Mark drifted back on a pop fly to left. Shortstop Victor Menocal called him off at the last second, and as Mark tried to slide out of his way, his spikes caught and then leftfielder Matthew Boggs crashed into him. The result was a broken right ankle that took two screws to repair and cost him most of the season. Mark returned late in the year for nine games. He finished with a .419 average, five homers and 20 RBIs. Without its star for most of the year, the team still managed a 41-20 record and a tournament berth, but did not advance out of the regionals.


Adam Everett, 2004 Topps
     
 

Mark ended his college career as one of only three ACC players with a .400 lifetime average. Broken ankle and all, Mark probably would have been the first overall pick in the draft had it not belonged to the cash-poor Twins. Instead, Minnesota eyed high schooler Joe Mauer. Boras, still advising Mark, wanted to pair him with his top client, Alex Rodriguez, in Texas. He communicated this to the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who steered clear.

Texas desperately needed pitching prospects, but the debacle of the 1995 draft was still fresh in the Rangers’ minds. That year they had used their first pick (seventh overall) on Florida State pitcher Jonathan Johnson, hoping he could be ready for the majors in a year or so. The next two players off the board were Todd Helton and Geoff Jenkins. Johnson wound up winning all of two big-league games in seven seasons in the Texas organization.

Despite a number of interesting pitchers in the 2001 draft, the Rangers would not make the same mistake again. GM Doug Melvin asked every scout whether there was a hurler who they would rather have than Mark, and every scout answered "No." Texas selected Mark with the fifth pick, knowing full well his ankle injury would not be a bargaining chip. With one year of college eligibility remaining, he could go back to Georgia Tech and re-emerge as a #1 pick. Boras, now acting as Mark's agent, negotiated a $4.5 million bonus and a four-year major league contract for a total package of $9.5 million.

Mark took his time rehabbing his ankle, and then joined the Rangers’ instructional league team for 20 games and led the club with 13 RBIs. Although he projected as a first baseman or corner outfielder, the organization decided to keep him at third until his final destination became clearer.

Mark entered spring training in 2002 slated to start with Charlotte of the Class-A Florida State League. From there, the Texas brass hoped he would move quickly up the ladder. But Mark's progress was derailed during an exhibition game, when he ran into a fence chasing a foul ball. He suffered a partial tear of the flexor pronator muscle and ulnar collateral ligament on his left arm.

After a short rehab stint, Mark began his pro career in earnest on May 1. He rapped doubles in his first two at-bats. Overall, he collected hits in his first 12 games, batting .354 during the streak. Later in the month, Mark posted a four-hit game. He was a no-brainer for FSL Player of the Month honors.

Though his elbow still ached, Mark continued to rip the ball, hitting .336 in June. He was soon promoted to the Class-AA Tulsa Drillers, where he batted .316 with 24 extra-base hits in 48 games. Baseball America named him the third baseman on its Minor League All-Star Team, not to mention the top prospect in both the Florida State League and Texas League.

After the season, Mark made up for some of the time he missed that spring by playing for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League. In 27 games, he launched seven homers and knocked in 23 runs, and was second on the circuit with a .616 slugging average. His busy off-season continued in December, when he and his girlfriend, Georgia, were married.

MAKING HIS MARK

Mark earned a spot on the Texas roster out of spring training in 2003, cracking a team-record eight Grapefruit League home runs. He split time between the outfield and at first base with Rafael Palmeiro. Mark was more than adequate defensivley, especially considering his lack of experience at these positions. Though Hank Blalock had nailed down third base, Mark started 11 games at the hot corner, too.


Mark Teixeira, 2001 Baseball America
     
 

The Rangers were managed by Buck Showalter and featured a nucleus of good young position players, including Blalock, Michael Young, Alfonso Soriano—who was acquired from the Yankees in a trade for Alex Rodriguez—Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. But with Chan Ho Park and Jeff Zimmerman hurt most of the season, the pitching was a mess. Closer Ugueth Urbina was the lone star on the staff, and he was traded in July to the Florida Marlins for prospect Adrian Gonzalez. In Urbina's absence, Francisco Cordero stepped up to become a reliable fireman.

The team finished at an unimpressive 71-91, but Mark had a terrific season. He led all major league rookies with 26 homers and 60 extra-base hits, and also knocked in 84 runs. He started the year slowly, with only two homers in his first 32 games, and then hit 24 in his next 114. In the field, Mark went his final 36 games without an error. His only weakness seemed to be hitting righties, but no one worried since that had never been a problem in the past.

Every sign pointed to a breakout year for Mark in 2004, and he knew it. He started his season focused on improving his numbers, but a pair of injuries—a strained neck in spring training and a strained left oblique in April—dogged him early on. Finally healthy in May, he tried to do too much and frequently over-swung. Not coincidentally, there were a lot of pop-ups and Ks on the scorecard across from his name. On June 1, he was hitting .220.

In the month leading up to the All-Star break, Mark caught fire, hitting over .350 with a dozen homers—including round-trippers in five straight games. He blasted homers from both sides of the plate in a July 4th game against the Houston Astros and stayed hot through the summer, driving in at least one run in 15 of the Rangers’ first 16 games in July. In a contest against the Chicago White Sox, Mark launched an eighth-inning grand slam to spark a dramatic comeback victory and propel Texas into first place in the AL West. Weeks later against the Cleveland Indians, Mark hit for the cycle—the first Ranger in almost 20 years to do so.

From June 1 until the end of the year, Mark led the American League in home runs and was second to Miguel Tejada in RBIs. He finished with 38 home runs, 112 RBIs, 101 runs, a .281 average and a .560 slugging percentage. He raised his average from the left side by 25 points, erasing any doubt that he could rake from both sides of the plate. He also learned how to take advantage of Ameriquest Field’s short rightfield porch. Mark’s walks rose and his strikeouts fell, the sign of a young hitter on the ascent. While he made more errors in the field, he got to more balls than just about any other first-sacker in the league and committed only one miscue in his final 35 games.

More important, the Rangers were winning. Showalter guided the team to 89 victories, good for third in the AL West, just three games away from a playoff berth. Considering the team]s only reliable starter was old-timer Kenny Rogers, the Rangers’ record was nothing short of miraculous. Needless to say, the bullpen played a major role in the team’s success, as did pitching coach Orel Hershiser, who convinced his players to induce more grounders for their young infielders.

The Rangers went shopping for a big bat over the winter and drew interest from free agent Carlos Delgado. The slugger wanted to play first base, which would have meant moving Mark to the outfield. The Rangers flatly refused, and Delgado ended up inking a deal with the Marlins. The fact that Boras represented Delgado also made Texas leery. Instead, they signed Richard Hidalgo, a good rightfielder with home run power who came at a much cheaper price.

Avoiding a repeat of his sluggish start in ’04, Mark heated up early in 2005 and stayed hot all season long. He finished the year with 43 homers, 144 RBIs, 112 runs and a .301 average. (Not bad numbers for a guy heading to arbitration. ) He competed for the home run and RBI titles all year but was edged in September by Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, respectively.

The Rangers challenged for the division lead early in ’05, but a mid-year slump and multiple distractions (including an on-field attack of a TV cameraman by Rogers) sapped the team of its strength. Texas finished 79-83 after playing .500 ball most of the season.

The big news in Texas heading into 2006 was the departure of Soriano to the Washington Nationals. Into his second base slot stepped rookie Ian Kinsler, who performed well enough, despite being was hampered by a finger injury. Mark’s season got off to a slow start. He had only nine homers at the All-Star break, and then finished the year with a flourish, belting 24 more. He knocked in 110 runs and drew a career-high 89 walks. The Rangers improved by one victory, going 80–82.


Hank Blalock & Mark Teixeira,
2003 Topps
     
 

With the Rangers going nowhere and Mark heading toward free agency after 2008, Texas fans feared the worse. Their suspicions were confirmed. The team struggled to open the 2007 campaign. So did Mark, who missed a month in May of 2007 with a strained quadriceps. When he returned, he managed to keep his average around .300 through July and boosted his homer total to 13.

The Braves, in a race for first place in the NL East, needed a big bat to anchor their plineup. They looked to the Rangers and dangled some young talent in exchange for Mark. Texas bit, receiving top prospects Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus, plus some live arms.

Mark hit a three-run homer in his first game as a Brave, and went deep in his next two games as well. In August, he had back-to-back two-homer games—in the first game, both were left-handed, and in the next game, both came from the right side. As a trade-deadline pickup, no one could have hoped for more. Mark was named NL Player of the Month for August.

In 54 games in Atlanta, Mark batted .317 with 17 homers and 56 RBIs. Unfortunately, the Braves were unable to squeeze into the playoff picture. However, they avoided arbitration with Mark and signed him to a one-year contract.

The Braves hoped that Mark and other veterans would provide a steadying influence for ta young lineup in 2008. Once again, however, they lagged behind the division leaders by mid-year. With several teams in the market for a power hitter, the Braves pulled the trigger on a deal with the Angels, picking up oft-injured Casey Koychman in return.

Anaheim quickly discovered that Mark had no problem adjusting to a new team environment. He stung the ball at a .358 clip and slugged 13 homers in 43 games to lead the Angels to their first-ever 100-win season. Mark finished with a .308 average, 33 home runs and 121 RBIs. That September, he topped 200 homers for his career.

The Angels were the odds-on favorites in the AL heading into the postseason, but they played poorly against the Red Sox in their Division Series. After dropping Game 1, Anaheim looked to be in good shape when Mark drove in the tying run in the eighth inning off of Jonathan Papelbon. But Francisco Rodriguez gave up a two-run homer to JD Drew in the ninth to lose the game. The Angles squeaked out a 12-inning win in Game 3, but they fell the next day in another close game. This time Mark scored the tying run in the eighth inning, but the Red Sox won it 3–2 with a single in the bottom of the ninth.

After the season, Mark became a free agent. The smart money was on Boston to land him. The Nationals and Orioles also pursued him, but no one believed Mark would join a losing team. Meanwhile, the Yankees quietly let it be known that they would match whatever the Red Sox offered. Mark asked Leigh where she would like him to play, assuming all other things were equal. She said she’d like to see him in pinstripes.


Mark Teixeira, 2008 Heritage
     
 

The announcement was made by the Yankees on the heels of two other big-name free-agent signings, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. First base had been a soft spot in the Bronx ever since Jason Giambi’s fall from grace. Now New York had a great player and solid citizen at the position.

The 2009 season started slowly for Mark and the Yanks. With Alex Rodriguez undergoing hip surgery, Mark was naked in the middle of the lineup. It showed as he struggled to hit with power and drive in runs. Also affecting Mark was a sore left wrist, which hurt his swing from the right side of the plate. Rest, a cortisone shot and the return of A-Rod proved to be a good cure. Mark heated up in May and began popping balls out of the park.

Mark also produced game-saving plays with his glove and baserunning. He dug countless throws out of the dirt, and in a June game against his former Ranger teammates, he broke up a double play, which opened the gates to a seven-run inning. After a sub-par April, Mark was batting .300 and leading the AL in homers by mid-June. He was also closing in on the league leaders in RBIs. By the end of August, he was being mentioned in the same breath as Joe Mauer and teammate Derek Jeter for MVP honors.

Mark homered in back-to-back games in late September to finish the year with 39 long balls, tied with Carlos Pena of the Rays. His 122 RBIs—one more than the previous season—was good enough to edge Jason Bay, who drove in 119, for the AL lead.

The Yankees cruised to the AL East title and faced the Twins in the ALDS. Mark won Game 2 with a walk-off laser beam in the bottom of the 11th inning that skimmed the top of the left field wall. Just as important were several defensive stops that kept the game close.

The Yankees swept Minnesota and then moved on to the ALCS, where they faced the Anaheim Angels. M’arks bat was quiet until Game 5, when he had two hits and three RBIs in a losing cause. The Yankees wrapped up the series in six games, with Mark hitting .222. A-Rod carried the team offensively, and Sabathia was named series MVP after a pair of brilliant outings.

Mark continued to slump against the Phillies in World Series. The Philadelphia staff got him to chase high fastballs and breaking stuff in the dirt. But he made Pedro Martinez pay for a fat delivery in Game 2, launching a long game-tying solo homer into Yankee Stadium’s rightfield seats. The Yanks hoped the hit would loosen Mark up, but he looked tight at the plate throughout the series. He struck out on a changeup to end Game 5, but redeemed himself in the clincher one night later when he singled in a run and then scored in New York’s pivotal fifth inning.

The Yankees went won to win 7-3. Mark led the celebration on the field. Afterwards, he talked about the chemistry and camaraderie that keyed New York’s 27th World Series title.

Despite a spotty postseason at the plate, Mark delivered as advertised for the Yankees—something not every big-money free agent can do. He and fellow newcomers Burnett, Sabathia and Nick Swisher brought an upbeat attitude and team spirit that buoyed the Yankees through good times and bad. Add a Gold Glove and power bat to the equation, and there is little doubt that the Bronx Bombers truly hit the mark with their signing of Tex.

MARK THE PLAYER

Mark is a highly evolved switch-hitter. He has an excellent sense of the strike zone from both sides of the plate, and a keen understanding of how pitchers are trying to get him out. His ability to lay off bad pitches—and adjust to new pitching patterns—keeps him from falling too deeply into the slumps that plague every young player.

Unlike most switch-hitters (who bat left-handed the majority of the time), Mark is actually better from the right side of the plate. That being said, he has improved against righties as a major leaguer, adding loft to his left-handed cuts. Mark may one day hit .300 from both sides of the plate, and already has excellent power as a lefty and righty. He has become a more selective hitter since coming to the majors, as reflected in his strikeout and walk totals.

Mark is quick around the bag and not shy about whipping the ball around the infield—vestiges of his early days as a third baseman. As one might expect, he has picked up the footwork and positioning required to play first base quickly. He rarely gets handcuffed and is almost always in the right place for cutoffs on outfield throws. His comfort level with low throws has boosted the confidence level of his infielders, who feel free to cut loose on close plays.

 


Mark Teixeira, autographed photo


 

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