I was recently lucky enough to be able to have a conversation with now former Saints pitcher, Mark Hamburger. We talked about growing up, pitching, his time with the Saints, and a glimpse into the future.
Mark's biggest supporter this year was his dad (along with Saints manager George Tsamis and pitching coach "the calm during the storm" Kerry Ligtenberg). His dad was also his hero growing up and pushed him and his friends to play any and all sports in their youth. "He was the neighborhood king, the kid leader" said Hamburger. Even though he played all sports as a child Mark said baseball has always been his favorite sport. He began playing at age nine on his brother's team whenever they needed players. "Baseball was definitely something that I loved, especially being able to play with my brother, it kinda heightened it when I was little to be able to play with the older kids."
As a self described "smooth pitching goalie" Mark enjoys the fielding part of the game as much as the pitching. " I love being an infielder, you know when it comes to pitching I love being able to make plays, whether it's on the bunt, or hits up the middle and being able to swallow them up." With such a smooth delivery in his pitching motion, a steady diet of yoga, and a little long toss the next day Mark is able to recover from a complete game outing without much soreness. "Most of the guys on the team say I have a rubber arm. I like to think that I use my body well, and that my arm is just a reaction of my body. The yoga is also really helpful too, to be in a hot room and kinda melt your arm a little bit." As for Mark's strikeout pitch he says, "I like every pitch as an out pitch, cause I love high fastballs, I love two seamers inside, I love even framing that outside fastball, I love my split finger, curve ball in the dirt, or that freeze curve ball on the outside corner. If you can use everything to get people out you have a lot more options."
Mark's time with the Saints began with a call from manager George Tsamis. "I was pumped up the minute that George called me, I felt it was kinda a sign. I never really watched the Twins a whole lot growing up because I Lived in Shoreview. I was so close to the Saints stadium that it was our team of choice to go watch. That was kinda my childhood team, like I've told many people I think it was kinda a childhood dream come true to be able to be out on that Saints field. I loved the ballpark and the closeness of the action. I really liked the smaller community the Saints brought." The childhood dream feeling continued while playing the season with the Saints. "Throughout the season it just made me love the game so much more than I really ever have. Because of the relaxed atmosphere, and having a really close team, those guys pick you up. It was a really good feeling to be in that clubhouse." Mark described his season on the mound with the Saints as a work in progress. "After struggling in 2012 and being let go it was trying to gain my confidence back, and getting out there especially as a starter it started out slow. Once I met the whole team and realized how much fun being with all those guys was, it kinda changed my mentality and helped me to go out there and not only be confident with my pitching because I had good guys behind me. That brought my fun back to the game and it just made me gain my confidence more and more, because I had guys behind me that were really supportive and always were throwing back chatter." And gain his confidence back he did. During the 2013 season Mark etched his name in the Saints record book in four categories, strikeouts (120), innings pitched (149), complete games (5), and starts in a season (21), tied with Anthony Claggett (2013) and Robert Cole (2012). "That's awesome, it's an honor. Especially being able to say it was with my childhood favorite team that I watched, and then being able to play for them and be a big help to the team. That's cool to have my name on there, it makes me feel good to be able to say I was able to help my team as much as I did. That I did as best as I could and had some good outcomes." There was plenty of attention paid to Mark during his record setting season by major league scouts but he didn't let it get in his head. "I never even knew there was a scout in the stands if there was. That's defiantly something I tried to take out of my mind and just try to be in the moment. You always want to know that people are watching and you'll get another opportunity, but also having that thought in the back of my head that I might be leaving the Saints, I didn't want that feeling. I just wanted to stay with my team and be supportive of my team and not be thinking about leaving. So I didn't even pay attention if there were scouts there, I just really enjoyed the time I was having out on the field with my teammates."
No season with the Saints would be complete without fun being had, and Mark had his share during the year. "Man, that Harlem Shake was pretty fun at the end of the season. That was an awesome moment to be able to have both teams get out there and just have some fun for the fans. It not only showed team camaraderie, but it showed sportsmanship. I heard an awesome quote 'It's all about baseball, but it's not about baseball' and it's kinda a deep quote that I feel as though it's super correct in the way that it is all about the game, the winning, your stats, but on the other side of it it's not about baseball at all. It's about the fans, it's about the other teams still seeing each other as opponents, but also friends in the game of baseball. When we were all out there together I was popping around with a couple of the other players and they were just smiling saying how much fun it was. I know that's something that not one of those guys from our team or their team will ever forget." As for where Mark got his dance moves from, "I remember always dancing. I had an older brother and sister, so whenever you went to a middle or high school dances all my sibling friends would say 'Marky lets see you dance' and as a little kid you do whatever your told and I would start dancing, and I just it learned it over time. So the fact that I threw it down in a bear costume, it was a work in progress. I've being practicing it for years and then I finally got to use it in a performance let's just say."
Another highlight during the season for Mark was all of the walk offs. "To watch my teammates hit a home run, or when Willie (Cabrera) threw out the runner at home and then Dwight (Childs) blocked the plate. What a throw and what a tag, I can still see it in slow motion. Those plays, those are the Na Na Na, Na Na Na (Sports Center sound) top ten plays. It just pumps you up so much you just kinda lose control, you just sprint on the field like a little kid and just go crazy. It was those close victories that made you feel you were on cloud nine."
On Tuesday, September 3rd (the day after the Saints season ended) Mark had his contract purchased by the Minnesota Twins, and so begins the next journey in his career. "I'm planning on going to winter ball for about 2 months" (most likely in Puerto Rico, but not confirmed yet). "After that come back home and just stay growing, and stay working out, and doing my yoga, and just taking this whole off season as a good preparation for spring training next year. So it's kinda lit a new fire under me." Mark's roommate while with the Saints, Brad Boyer, also had his contract purchased by the Twins earlier in the 2013 season and will be at spring training next year as well. "We've already talked about it quite a bit, it's going to be exciting. Especially after to getting so close to him this year, we definitely got to know each other very well, and yeah I'm really excited to be able to be back with him. He's a great guy, and also just an awesome person to talk baseball with. He loves baseball, maybe even more than I do. We'll defiantly be using each other for support." Mark is determined to show the Twins he is a changed player coming back to them. "I'd like to go into spring training and show them that I've made some great changes in my life. Not only towards my life outside of baseball, but my work ethic in baseball, and just show the Twins that I really do want to be part of their team again." The ultimate goal for a baseball player is to make it, in Mark's case back to the majors. "Of course I want to make it up to the majors, but I just want to really have fun being back with the Twins, and just try as hard as I can, and just go a hundred percent all the time and see where it ends up. You know I'd very much like to say I'd love to be with the Twins organization for a long time. This is my home, this is where my whole family is and can come watch me. So I'd love to make Minnesota also my home for my career. But we'll see what happens you know, I might get traded to the Rangers again. I've gone with the punches the past six years and it's worked out perfectly fine. My life is exactly where it's supposed to be, so what ever happens I'm just going to keep rolling with those punches and see where it takes me."
I would like to thank Mark for taking the time to talk with me and also his dad, Steve, for helping to set it up. It was a great conversation with a great guy who has a bright future in front of him. I wish him the best of luck next year and in the future. I've said it before, but I hope we see him in a Twins uniform very soon and for a very long time.