Occidental baseball’s Walker Marks (first-year) has big shoes to fill this season, as he’s tasked with replacing four-year All-SCIAC selection and Tiger all-time hits leader Logan Allen ‘13 at shortstop.
And while playing the shortstop position itself guarantees an elevated level of difficulty since it is one of the prime spots on the diamond, Occidental head coach Luke Wetmore has not hesitated to throw Marks into the fire.
“In most situations, the shortstop is the captain of the infield,” Wetmore said. “On our squad it’s not that [Marks] isn’t that guy, but we have another guy up the middle, Riley Smith (senior), so there’s no pressure on [Marks] to be a vocal leader.”
Playing among the Tigers’ veterans has helped ease Marks into his role. As a defensive-minded shortstop, he has utilized the lack of pressure to also produce at the plate. Through the team’s first nine games of the season, Marks is hitting .258 with five RBI and a .343 on base percentage.
He has also turned in several clutch performances so far this season, namely laying down a safety squeeze to tie the game against Whitworth in the bottom of the ninth inning on Feb. 9 and blasting a game-winning RBI double in extras at Chapman on Feb. 14.
This early success has come as no surprise to Wetmore and company. In fact, Marks and the Occidental baseball program viewed each other as a strong fit early in the recruiting process. Marks found the coaching staff accessible and open, getting the sense of how much they care about their players. On Wetmore’s end, the skipper noticed how easily the game comes to Marks.
“He never looks like he’s out of control,” Wetmore said. “There’s a familiarity with the game that he has.”
Marks does not attribute his love and knowledge of the sport to one specific moment, but rather a process that developed over time. At an early age, his father would toss him Wiffle Balls on the family’s driveway. The goal was for Marks to try to hit them across the street, and when his parents saw that he had talent, they encouraged him to get involved in Little League.
Over time, Marks transitioned from Little League into travel ball and high school. While many young athletes fall victim to the burn-out epidemic, Marks never lost his his enjoyment for hardball.
“There was never one time on the field where I was bored or upset,” Marks said. “Every baseball thing I did was awesome because my parents just found a way to make it fun.”
Far from his Little League days, the long, lanky 6-foot-3 Marks fits the new-wave shortstop mold that was ushered in by former Baltimore Orioles’ infielder Cal Ripken, Jr.
In fact, Marks often studies film of professional shortstops, including Ripken, taking note of how the players approach the position defensively. Offensively, he singled out New York Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter as his role model.
“I see [Jeter] take his warm up swings and I hear [about] what he does in the cages before the game,” Marks said. “Just staying inside the baseball, that’s the kind of approach I try to take at the plate.”
Marks has used this type of knowledge of the game to step into a key role on the Tiger squad.
Smith, Occidental’s second baseman and Marks’s double play partner, spoke highly of Marks’ ability to fit in with the club.
“The best part is that when he’s on the field you can’t tell if he’s a [first-year] or senior,” Smith said. “It’s been fun to get to know him and play next to a guy who is able to not act any differently on the field as he does off.”
Despite breaking into the starting lineup from day one, Marks is well aware that he has much to learn as he continues to adjust to college life.
“There’s certain situations, on and off the field, where it shows that I’m a [first-year],” Marks said. “College is a lot different than high school. Here you really are a student first. It takes a lot of focus and maturity.”
With nearly a full four years of Tiger baseball ahead of him, Marks understands the significance of the opportunity he has at Occidental.
“I think this year of all years, I appreciate baseball more,” he said. “One game, I just walked out on the field and just said ‘wow.’ I just really appreciate being able to continue to play.”
Marks and the Tigers return to action Friday at 2:30 p.m., hosting Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS)at Anderson field. They then head to Claremont Saturday to finish the weekend series with a doubleheader. First pitches are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.