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Anthony Marks (Photo by Andrew Woolley)[/caption]
—Four years ago, Anthony Marks was the 5-foot-7, 150-pound quirky freshman walk-on taking batting practice in a basketball jersey and jean shorts.
Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore didn’t know what to make of him. The Chanticleers didn’t know what to make of him. Even Anthony Marks didn’t know what to make of Anthony Marks. He had no way of knowing that in four years time, he would be playing in the College World Series finals or that he’d be batting leadoff or that he’d play a key role in a 5-4 Chanticleers win to force a decisive third game.
He didn’t even know he’d make the roster. He was an undersized kid from Pittsburgh who had only received two college offers—one Division III, one NAIA. Nothing was promised to him.
He remembers meeting current Coastal Carolina third baseman Zach Remillard for the first time as freshmen. He remembers the talent chasm between them.
“I saw Remillard, I was like, ‘How you doing? What’s your name?” Marks recalled. “He was like, ‘I’m Zach. I’m trying to start at third.’
“I was like, ‘You’re trying to start? I’m just trying to make the team. You’re trying to start your freshman year? What?”
Fast forward four years to Tuesday, Game 2 of the CWS against Arizona, Coastal Carolina staring at the end of its season with a loss. Marks was starting in left field, batting first, trying to extend the Chanticleers’ season—and his own baseball career—one more day.
The walk-on has become Coastal’s eccentric spark plug, an energetic leader, whose every action looks like it’s happening in hyper-speed.
On Tuesday, Marks knew the Chanticleers needed something—anything—to jumpstart their offense after Arizona lefthander J.C. Cloney threw a shutout in Game One. Down 1-0 in the third inning with runners on second and third and one out, Marks provided that something.
The lefthanded hitter grounded a pitch from Arizona righthander Kevin Ginkel just past the diving shortstop, placing the ball perfectly up the middle to score two runs to give the Chanticleers the lead and their first two runs in the finals. After Marks reached first, he pointed to the Coastal dugout with his right hand, pounded his chest three times and threw both arms up in the air. This, Marks hoped, would get the Chanticleers going.
“It felt so good to scratch a run across,” Marks said, “because obviously we got shut out yesterday, and that usually doesn’t happen to us. We’re a pretty good offensive team, so to do that, everybody’s kind of shocked a little bit.
“And then struggling a little bit early and didn’t score, and then to put up two quick ones and take the lead, I think to everybody it (meant) a lot.”
Marks wasn’t done. He’d tack on two more hits—the most important of which came in the eighth. With the game tied 2-2 and Arizona lefty closer Cameron Ming on the mound—who’d only allowed one run in 10 previous CWS innings—Marks hit a single up the middle on a 1-2 pitch to spark a three-run rally, one that would ultimately push Coastal Carolina to victory.
That Marks was in the thick of the action for the Chanticleers on Tuesday shouldn’t comes as a surprise in the context of his season. He was the one who engineered Coastal Carolina’s surprising walk-off victory at Louisiana State to clinch the Baton Rogue Super Regional, walking to lead off the ninth, stealing second base, then coming around to score on Michael Paez’s single. Marks is hitting .290/.408/.313 with 15 stolen bases, a pure leadoff, high-walk, slap-type hitter.
But put Marks’ night in context of where he came from, his size, the fact that he went undrafted this June as a senior, and it takes on a new meaning, something that Marks and his teammates reflected on after the game.
“I'll tell you what, the first time I ever saw Anthony Marks, I think he was wearing a basketball jersey and jorts hitting off the tee in our facility,” said righthander Mike Morrison, who started Tuesday and threw 6 2/3 strong innings. "I didn't know what the heck to think about the jersey. I've grown four years to love him like my brother. We do schoolwork together. The stuff he does in the classroom, he's really picked it up. I think he was one of our highest GPA guys this semester.
“And the growing up he's done over the four years is unbelievable. For him, if you guys knew him to see where he is at today, four years ago, when he walked in this place, he's very, very special and he's going to dominate in whatever he does in his life.”
Marks said, coming out of high school, that he believed in his heart he could succeed at the Division I level, and after a long sit down conversation with his mother, he decided that he would enroll at Coastal and try to walk on. With his speed his best asset, Marks was given a practice jersey and told by Gilmore that if he worked hard on his swing, he might have a chance.
He played in just 29 games his freshman year, starting nine. The next year, he played in 41 games and started 15, seeing time mostly as a defensive replacement. For the past two seasons, he’s been starting every game.
Marks came into Tuesday knowing in the back of his mind that might be the last baseball game he ever plays. Undrafted, a future playing the game seems doubtful. Mark has one more semester left at Coastal Carolina, with a focus on communications and journalism. He said he hopes to remain active in sports in some capacity and, he hopes, with Coastal.
Even knowing what was at stake Tuesday, Marks said he was upbeat and loose throughout the day, joking with teammates at breakfast, lunch and batting practice. Not shy in the slightest, Marks took over the post-game press conference, interjecting on questions answered by his teammates, cracking jokes, talking a mile a minute. At one point, the press conference moderator quipped, “I’m not sure where I lost control.”
That’s all part of Marks’ compact package, who he’s been for the last four years. But he said it’s starting to sink in that it’s all coming to an end—he knows Wednesday’s game will be his last.
“I’m probably gonna go home and reminisce a little bit tonight, probably gonna have a couple of tears in my eyes,” Marks said. “Win or lose, tomorrow’s the last game I’ll ever get to put this uniform on, and it’s really sad.
“But at the same time, it’s really, really exciting knowing the stage we’re going on."
And he knows, for one last time, the Chanticleers will need their spark plug.