Marcus Jensen's BASEBALL ODYSSEY
The big league lifestyle is often regarded as glamorous.
Many players have multiple residences, a fleet of automobiles, huge wardrobes, and thousands of dollars in jewelry. However,
there are many more players that toil anonymously chasing their dream, accepting promotions and demotions, bouncing from place
to place. Here today, gone tomorrow. Marcus Jensen is one of those players; his career can best be described as a "baseball
On June 15th, Jensen was with his latest team, the Milwaukee Brewers. One of his former teams, the Minnesota
Twins, were in town for an interleague series. He made rounds during batting practice, chatting and shaking hands with the
friends and acquaintances he had made during his 52 game stint (a career high) with the Twins in 2000.
"I know a lot
of the guys over there," he commented. "They've kept a lot of their players - they've got a good core group of players (now)."
"It's good to see them grow over the past couple of years. At the time I was there we were young; it was kind of a
developmental phase," the soft-spoken catcher explained. "This (their success) was the objective of what they wanted. The
guys have matured and they've gotten good results."
Although he gave no hint of it, Jensen must be a bit envious.
Minnesota had offered his best chance of sticking in the big leagues. The Twins were a young team, their catching situation
was unsettled, and he impressed them enough to make opening day roster despite being a non-roster invitee to spring training.
However, after hitting .209, the switch hitting backstop was sent down to the minors in early August in favor of newly acquired
Danny Ardoin. Now the Twins have bonded together to form one of the game's most exciting young teams as well as a legitimate
Jensen's professional career began in 1990, when the San Francisco Giants
made him the 33rd pick in the amateur draft. The athletically built Jensen played both baseball and basketball at Oakland's
Skyline High School. He was regarded at the time as the Giants' catcher of the future.
After working his way through
the Giants' minor league system, Jensen received a September call up in 1996. It was the first of many "cup of coffee" stints
for the catcher as he appeared in nine games, hitting .211 in 19 at-bats.
Jensen headed north with the Giants following Spring
Training in 1997. After hitting only .149 in 30 games, he was traded to Detroit on July 16th. Then, after shuffling back-and-forth
between the Tigers and AAA Toledo, he was released in March of 1998 after playing in just 8 games and hitting .182 in 11 at-bats
as a Tiger.
The Milwaukee Brewers were the next team to give Jensen a chance. After spending the season in AAA, the
Brewers called him up in September. His first tour in Milwaukee consisted of two games and two hitless at-bats. The Brewers
released him following the season.
The Cardinals organization was next on Jensen's tour. He was signed
in January 1999, and called up on September 1st. In St. Louis, Jensen saw his most big league playing time since 1997, hitting
.235 in 16 games. Once again, he was released following the season.
After his above mentioned stop in Minnesota, things really got interesting
for the journeyman catcher.
Following his demotion in Minnesota in August of 2000, Jensen
spent a month in at AAA Salt Lake and was selected to the United States Olympic Team. In Sydney, Jensen shared the catching
duties with former Blue Jay Pat Borders. The United States, of course, defeated Cuba for the gold medal.
It was a
thrilling experience for Jensen, who grew up a Dodger fan, to play for Tommy Lasorda, and to win a gold medal. "Winning the
Olympics a couple of years ago," he said. "That's the highlight of my career - the top of what I've done so far."
still discusses the event with former Olympic teammates like Doug Mientkiewicz and Ben Sheets. "Ten, twenty years down the
line, we'll still have that experience to keep us together," Jensen said of the bond these players have formed.
the Dodgers placed him on waivers following Spring Training in 2001, the Red Sox signed Jensen and assigned him to AAA Pawtucket.
He remained there until June 8th, when Jason Varitek was placed on the disabled list (DL). Jensen appeared in just one game
with Boston. He was waived when they acquired catcher Doug Mirabelli from Texas on June 14th. The next day Texas claimed him
to replace Mirabelli, who had been filling in for Bill Hasselman. After a week of serving as Ivan Rodriguez's backup, Jensen
was demoted to AAA Oklahoma when Hasselman was activated from the DL.
In just over two weeks, Jensen had gone from
Pawtucket to Boston to Texas to Oklahoma. Despite all the movement, and all of the distractions, he kept his focus and a positive
attitude. "Going to Pawtucket to Boston to Texas in matter of a week or two. As far as the business goes it's not strange,
but there is definitely no stability in that kind of movement," he said.
Jensen played well at Oklahoma, hitting .298
with 8 HR and 25 RBI in 53 games, and was recalled on September 2nd. He finished the season with Texas hitting .160 in 11
"For the most part last year I stayed in hotels the entire year. There are two ways to look at it: you can
get frustrated because you're constantly bouncing around, on the flip side of that, I'm still getting opportunities to play
- so I just try to stay positive," he explained.
With all of the movement, he keeps his possessions to minimum. "(I
keep) just the core of what I need; enough to get me by in AAA and the big leagues," he commented.
The amount of short
call ups Jensen has dealt with is a testament to his mental toughness and work ethic. "(You have to) continue the work ethic
when you are not playing so when you do get your opportunity, when your name is called, that you are plenty ready," Jensen
One of the most striking things about Marcus Jensen is his
unusual build for the position. He plays a position that is usually reserved for a short, stocky, thick legged individual;
he is instead tall, slender, (6-4, 195lbs) and athletic. His defense is his strength, and to this point, is the main reason
(along with his ability to switch hit) that he has gotten so many opportunities. He is very agile behind the plate, and can
jump out of the crouch quickly. His arm is above average, and he's been durable wherever he's played.
grandfather, Mickey Kemper, played in the Negro Leagues, explains how he first began playing the position. "It was something
my grandfather did when he played in the Negro Leagues, I just kind of picked it up from him," he said. "As a little leaguer,
when I was 10 years old, they happened to put the catcher's gear on me and I've maintained it ever since. It was either that
or pitching - they were basically my two options coming out of high school."
After speaking to Jensen for awhile,
it is difficult to not admire his attitude and dedication. He is a dreamer, but yet his feet are firmly planted on the ground.
"When you look at my resume - there have been a few releases on there, you start to question your value to certain clubs especially
when you are getting released," he commented. "But I've persevered and kept moving and created opportunities; whether opportunities
have opened up or I've created them - it's just been a blessing."
Despite the demotions and releases Jensen remains
motivated. "I have a lot to prove, I don't think I've epitomized what I am capable of doing. I have yet to do that consistently
at the big league level," he said. "As long as I keep getting opportunities to do that, I feel like I have a chance to prove
"I have yet to show what my strengths are. If I can get a little something going then maybe I can show
I am capable of hitting in clutch situations, driving in some runs, and calling a good game," he went on to explain.
29, Jensen's realistic side helps him cope with the harsh realities of the business. "(Quitting) has always been in the back
of my mind if something doesn't happen if the opportunities don't continue to open - what is my next step from there? I got
to face the reality of that situation as well," he explained.
Jensen, who lives in Scottsdale, AZ, during the off
season, wouldn't even speculate on how many places he's lived during his career. "It's too hard to keep track," he said. "All
year last year I stayed in hotels and never settled into one particular place and I've almost done the same this year."
2002 has been more of the same for Jensen. He began the year at AAA Indianapolis
and was called up to Milwaukee on May 19th when starting catcher, Raul Cassanova, was placed on the DL. Like most of his call
ups it didn't last long, he played in just 16 games, and struggled with the bat, hitting only .114, before being waived on
June 24th. He reported back to AAA Indianapolis on June 27th.
Jensen has modest goals for this season as
well as for his career. While they may be simple, they do say a lot for his love of the game and determination to realize
his dream. "Just to make the most of my opportunity (with the Brewers this year), pick up my numbers in the limited times
I'm getting, and show that I have some value to this club or another ball club," he commented.
"(For his career):
just to continue to keep playing, to keep developing - getting better. To try to fulfill some of the potential that God has
Many former players go on to the coaching ranks, but Jensen isn't sure that's for him. "I'm so used to
being on the field, being active - I don't know if I could handle coaching," he explained. "I'm not sure, once it's all said
and done I'm going to weigh my options."
In Milwaukee, as is the case at an increasing number of parks, it has become
customary for players to have a song of their choice played when their name is introduced prior to batting. When asked what
his song was on June 15th, Jensen replied that he hadn't been in Milwaukee long enough to have one picked out. If he does
return, however, the Beatles classic "The Long and Winding Road," would be a fitting choice.
Marcus Jensen has had
a remarkable career. No, he has not broken records or played in All Star games, but he has played for seven different teams,
won a gold medal, and has perservered; not giving up on his dream, no matter where it has taken him. The career of Marcus
Jensen is a lesson in resilience and dedication.
- photos by Brian Zingler
Jensen's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com
Jensen career statistics @ BASEBALL-REFERENCE.com
Marcus Jensen's "career path"
Simply Baseball Notebook