Mark Tatera is the only player on the Gophers baseball roster that has the letters “UT” by his name.
While many players on the roster play multiple positions, Tatera is the only one listed as a utility player.
“No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve never really had a position,” he said.
The junior played a combination of shortstop and catcher growing up and also spent time in center field.
As a freshman at Duke, Tatera caught and played third in the fall but was put at second in the spring season.
In just three games this season, he’s already started games at first base and third base. He also played in the outfield at various points of last year.
And an injury to catcher Matt Halloran means Tatera will see some time behind the plate this season as well.
“We’re big on teaching people to play at more than one place,” head coach John Anderson said. “It’s going to give him opportunities to play a lot in this program because you can move him to a spot where you need some help. … So it’s going to keep him on the field and in the lineup.”
While some players might mind not having one set position to focus on, Tatera said he’s willing to play wherever his team needs him.
“Mark’s had that attitude since he came in. We told him when he transferred here that we like his versatility,” Anderson said. “He’s never hesitated. He likes it.”
Tatera’s normal practices consist of him taking ground balls at third and then sprinting to the other side of the diamond for the other half of the drill at first base.
“It gives me something to do every day,” Tatera said. “I always have to be focused — I always have to be learning something new about each of the positions.”
These days, Tatera has the helps out all over the field. It wasn’t always that way, though, as he had to redshirt a season upon his arrival on campus.
Tatera spent his freshman year at Duke. He said he loved the school and his teammates, but he said he wound up transferring for multiple reasons.
The amount of scholarship money he was receiving decreased, and the team wouldn’t allow him to go pre-med.
“[That] was a big thing for me. I’m not going to play baseball forever,” Tatera said. “I’ve probably got one, two more years left, and that’s it. So going pre-med was something important to me, just so it sets me up for the future.”
Tatera said players on Duke’s baseball team practiced four hours a day. He said the players were also expected to be there an hour before practice, an hour after practice, while also spending an hour in the weight room.
“When you’re there seven hours a day working out, they just decided that some majors were easier than others, and those were the ones they wanted the baseball team to have,” Tatera said.
Tatera said that was unique aspect of the head coach at Duke at the time.
So, he decided to transfer.
Tatera is an Eagan native but was never recruited by Minnesota in high school.
He said when he transferred, he initially focused on schools that had recruited him in the past. But Minnesota had openings on its roster, and Anderson said it needed some help behind the plate, so Tatera chose the Gophers.
Per NCAA rules, transferring meant redshirting for a season.
Minnesota pitcher Ty McDevitt, Tatera’s roommate for the past three years, called him the “most competitive person you’ll ever meet.”
“I think he was kind of mind-numb for awhile there having to sit and watch games,” McDevitt said. “That’s frustrating, but it was nice because he was always there encouraging us.”
Tatera said it was difficult to watch the team struggle and not be able to help.
“I just had to stand there and watch without helping,” Tatera said.
Now that the redshirt season is two years behind him, Tatera is in a position where he can help all around the field.
In the Gophers’ win against Northern Illinois on Sunday, Tatera went 4-for-5 and drove in five runs. Tatera drove in 13 runs all of last season.
Anderson said he expects him to be in a position in the lineup where there are RBI opportunities.
“He’s shown the knack in the little bit he’s played here so far to come up with a big hit with guys in scoring position,” Anderson said.
He’ll have the opportunity to help his team from all around the diamond this season.
“I know I’m not the most athletic, the best baseball player out there,” Tatera said. “Talent-wise, I might not even be in the top half of our team, but I just try to focus and try to be the best I can.”