Former University of Louisville slugger Mark Jurich, the son of U of L Vice President for Athletics Tom Jurich, is in his fourth year of professional baseball after being selected in the 13th round of the First Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves in 2003. The fact that Mark is playing at all is somewhat miraculous since he has had to overcome a major head injury. Now he’s on a hitting tear that has raised his batting average to .290. In 40 games, he’s produced 36 hits, including 13 doubles and two home runs to go along with 26 RBI.
“I feel like the luckiest dad in the world because Mark is alive,” Tom said. “After the serious accident he had, the rest is all a bonus.”
Mark suffered a freak spring training accident in 2005 when he was struck in the face with a baseball thrown from a second baseman at the same time a throw was coming in from third base. He suffered a broken orbital bone, a fractured cheekbone and a broken nose. It could have been even worse, but thankfully the 27-year-old prospect has recovered from the frightening incident.
Jurich started this season as a first baseman with Atlanta’s Class AA club, the Mississippi Braves in the Southern League. Last season at Class A Myrtle Beach he batted .254 with seven home runs and 52 RBI. The big thing for Jurich this year is that he came into the season completely healthy after undergoing off-season surgery to his left shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff.
"I came to spring training in the best shape physically and mentally that I've been in," Jurich reported. "It was nice coming to spring training healthy and not having to worry about doing any rehab or anything like that - just focus on baseball."
Jurich did some special preparation before spring training with former U of L coach Lelo Prado who is now the head coach at South Florida.
"I went to Tampa and spent a couple weeks with Coach Prado just to try and get everything right before I went to spring training. He knows my swing almost better than I do. It was nice to work with him and get my swing back on track so I could go to spring training and hit the ground running."
A return to normalcy represents major progress for the lefthander.
"I can't tell you how nice it is to just play baseball," Jurich explained. "I joked around with some of my buddies that this was my third spring training and I was finally able to play my first spring training game this year instead of going through extended spring training and doing rehab. I was able to work out and do the things I wanted to do in the off season and get myself in the best shape I could."
Tom Jurich, an athletic administrator for the past 20 years, knows the road back to excellence will likely be a long one for his son.
“As we’ve explained to him many times, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Tom. “Now, he just has to get back in the groove. He has always been somewhat of a streaky player and a streaky hitter. He’s had a great run already. I’m very pleased with what he’s done.”
Young Jurich continues to follow his alma mater as well as Prado’s efforts at South Florida.
"I love Coach Prado, and I owe him everything that I have in baseball. He has improved my skills in a big way, and I think the world of him. Also, Coach Dan McDonnell is doing a good job at U of L. These days, I follow both programs very closely."
Mark worked on his arm strength during the off-season to prepare for his next stint with the Braves.
“It was very cold in Louisville and I was fortunate enough to use the new Trager Indoor Center and work out with Chris Burke of the (Houston) Astros.” he said. “We really focused on long tossing, and I think my arm has gotten a lot stronger. Also, I'm seeing the ball very well and my swing feels really good for the first time in awhile," said Jurich, whose team leads the Southern League’s South Division with a 38-21 record.
“For awhile, Mark was not playing quite as much as he would have liked. That’s the way it goes in baseball - some days are better than others,” said Tom Jurich.
NOTE: Von Benko is a contributing writer for Louisville.com. He covers professional football, basketball and baseball and can reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org