PASADENA, Calif. - Matt Mark's life has changed in a way he probably never dreamed.
The 2002 Indian Creek High School graduate who remembers shoveling snow on a baseball field as a freshman for coach Joe Dunlevy, has traded that utensil for some sunscreen.
Mark was named the ninth head baseball coach in the 103-year history of California Institute of Technology (Caltech) on Aug. 27.
MAKING HIS MARK — Indian Creek graduate Matt Mark was named the ninth head baseball coach in the 103-year history of California Institute of Technology (Caltech) on Aug. 27. This is not your average Division III NCAA program as 17 alumni and 14 non-alumni faculty at the Pasadena facility have won the Nobel Prize. The median SAT score is between 2200 and 2340. A 2006 graduate of Washington & Jefferson with a bachelor of arts degree in business administration, he was a member of the baseball team for three years, and served a team captain for two seasons.
This is not your average Division III NCAA program as 17 alumni and 14 non-alumni faculty at the Pasadena facility have won the Nobel Prize. The median SAT score is between 2200 and 2340.
"This is a pretty amazing place," said the 28-year-old Mark. "The requirements are pretty lofty. The median ACT score here is 33. That gives me a smaller base to recruit from, which is something I will really enjoy. It will really personalize my recruiting. I'm not cutting down from a list of about 2,500.
"Those who want to come here do a lot of the recruiting for themselves. They want to come here because they know they want to be chemical engineers. My job is to get to know them on a personal basis."
A 2006 graduate of Washington & Jefferson with a bachelor of arts degree in business administration, he was a member of the baseball team for three years, and served a team captain for two seasons. Mark helped lead the Presidents to the Presidents' Athletic Conference championship in 2004 and 2006.
After graduation, he spent the 2007 season as the assistant baseball coach at W&J. While coaching the Presidents, Mark was involved in day-to-day situational analysis, field operation and recruiting as the squad won the conference championship.
He spent the 2007-08 campaign at Indian Creek as an assistant football coach under Andrew Connor and baseball coach under his former coach Mike Cottis, still the Redskins head baseball coach. Mark also served as a behavioral teacher.
"Matt was a player when I first got the head baseball job at Indian Creek back in 2001," said Cottis. "He was one of those kids who was just a student of the game and you could tell he loved baseball and lived for learning the intricacies and he wasn't just there to play.
"It's funny how you can tell if a kid is a natural leader or not, even at an early age. Matt is definitely a natural leader and that is why I asked him to come back and coach with us after he graduated college. He always told me though, that he was looking to go above and beyond the high school level in the coaching ranks and I respected the fact that we were just a stepping stone for him.
"He's a go-getter and this position is something he worked very hard for and I know he will continue to work hard to maintain his high standard. I am very proud of his accomplishments at Washington & Jefferson as a player and coach, Allegheny as a coach, all the camps he's participated in and now this new position in Pasadena.
"He was a great kid to coach and he's turned out to be a great man in the game of baseball."
Mark served as the pitching coach for Allegheny College beginning in Aug. 2009. He made an immediate impact on the Gator hurlers. In his first season, he helped lower the staff's collective ERA from 5.49 in 2009 to 4.07 in 2010. That was the lowest team ERA at Allegheny since the 2000 season.
Under the guidance of Mark, the Gators produced back-to-back North Coast Athletic Conference pitchers of the year in 2010 and 2011.
"Matthew is a committed educator, excellent coach, strong role model and will contribute greatly to the vision of our athletic program," Athletic Director Betsy Mitchell said. "Coach Mark is eager to help us improve this program and I am confident that he will bring new ideas and expectations to the program."
Mitchell was the athletic director at Allegheny when Mark was an assistant.
"She took the job here about 16 months ago," said Mark, who lives about four miles from campus. "When the head baseball coach retired this past spring, she called me and we talked about the job. I applied, went through the interview process, and was lucky enough to get the job.
"I am a lucky guy."
Mark said he grew up an "Air Force brat" and lived in North Dakota, Texas, Dayton, the Louisville area and Mingo Junction. So, taking a trip to the left coast and eventually accepting the offer really was no big deal.
"It has not bothered me to come out here and experience something new," he said. "Very few times do you get a chance to be a head coach. After talking it over with family, friends and my girlfriend, it was easy to take the job."
Caltech was ranked first internationally in 2011 by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
"I am drafting a letter right now for recruits and the list of alumni and professors here is rather amazing," said Mark. "With this kind of school, I have to recruit nationally. But, I also use the Pete Carroll theory that you don't let anyone out of your back yard. We are getting interest from kids in smaller towns all over the nation.
"The bottom line, though, is baseball is baseball. It's just different out here. Our first game is Jan. 28 and we go through May. Back home, I would be shoveling snow on Jan. 28. The head coach I played under and the head coach I coached under began fall ball today. I probably won't start until mid-November. It's going to be 70 here in mid-November.
"I want to start as close to the season as we can. I want to start closer to the season to get the players in shape mentally and physically. They are going to have to get used to a new thought process."
The timing for Mark to head west could not have been better.
No one is on campus right now. Running on trimesters, school starts on Oct. 1.
That gives Mark plenty of time to get his feet wet, although that won't be in the Pacific Ocean.
"I'll stick with the mountains," he said with a laugh. "There's no beach in my immediate future."
Mark has plenty of things to do to occupy his time.
"It is still 90 out here," he said.
Those things are to build his roster, work on his schedule for next year and build a recruiting base. The club went 0-33 a year ago.
"We have nowhere to go but up, which is definitely exciting," said Mark, who also believed his age was a factor in his hiring. "Recruiting is a thankless, tireless job and it is easier for someone without a wife and kids to help the foundation of this program through the recruiting process, to build a team and build numbers within the program.
"This is going to make me work and I look forward to the work."
One thing Mark has found out in this journey that who you know is paramount, along with what you know.
He was coaching seventh-grade football and working at UPS when Kelly Swiney, an assistant coach at Allegheny went to Amherst. W&J called Mark to fill into that position. Swiney then became the head coach at Allegheny and brought over Mark, who met former athletic director Mitchell.
Mitchell was a competitive swimmer for more than 10 years, earning an Olympic silver medal as a high school athlete by placing second in the 100-meter backstroke, and also winning a gold medal as a member of the 400-meter medley relay in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She earned another Olympic medal after helping the 400-meter medley relay team to a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. In between Olympic berths, she set the world record in the 200-meter backstroke at the 1986 World Championships. That record stood for five years.
So, as Mark settles in - "I don't know that I'm necessarily settled all the way" - he continues to try to wrap his mind around the different way he will recruit.
"When I would get an e-mail at Allegheny, it would be stats, where he plays, which summer league team he plays for and then his ACT score," said Mark. "The e-mails I get now talk about academics and major and ACT score and the last paragraph is, 'I'm a right-handed pitcher.'"
He is also dealing with the time change.
"I'm used to making calls from 6 to 9 at night," Mark remarked. "Now, those calls are between 3 and 5 and I get to go home a little earlier. That means I start my day a little earlier, but that's fine with me."
His recruiting philosophy has changed because of the admissions timeline at Caltech.
"Once January rolls around and I have my commits who are seniors, I get to start recruiting juniors, which is new to me," he said. "I get a head start on the game. Plus, we have a small sample size already. It is an exciting place to be."
Another transition is the schedule. Caltech plays a nine-inning game on Friday and a Saturday or Sunday doubleheader. There are no games Monday through Thursday.
"It's like high school trips all over again, minus the yellow school bus and we get DVD players," Mark said with a laugh. "I am used to the closest trip being 2 hours away. Now, it may be that way because of traffic out here, but we have four schools within about 20 minutes of here."
Caltech plays in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with LaVerne, Pomona-Pitzer, Cal Lutheran, Occidental, Whittier, Redlands and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
"I think the furthest trip for a conference game is an hour," he said.
"I have already come across some really good kids. I am looking to build pitching and defense. With our schedule, it I can find three premier pitchers, I like our chances."
Mark, still, sometimes cannot believe where his office sits.
"I cannot express enough how excited I am to be in this position," he commented. "Of course, I couldn't be here without the help of a lot of people and that starts with my parents (Rick and Kim). They have been unbelievable.
"Along with my parents, I have learned a lot from my family and all the coaches I have played for and worked with. Everyone has had a hand in me being in this position.
"I come into work early smiling and I leave smiling. I know every day won't be like that. I am excited to have my own thing. I know I am well below average the age of a Division III head baseball coach.
"I've been lucky.
"I've had some great mentors."