For Bellhorn, more is definitely better

For Bellhorn, more is definitely better

MESA, Ariz. -- Mark Merchant might be nothing more than a footnote in baseball history, but he is a significant figure in the life of Mark Bellhorn.

Bellhorn was a Florida kid with big dreams when Merchant was the big star at Oviedo High School near Orlando. An outfielder with a full complement of tools, Merchant became the second overall pick in the 1987 First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, right behind a fellow high schooler from Cincinnati named Ken Griffey Jr., who was taken by Seattle.

Their career arcs couldn't have been more different. Griffey will land in Cooperstown someday, while Merchant never made it past Triple-A ball.

Even so, Merchant remains relevant to Bellhorn, who is off to a hot start this spring with his fifth Major League club, the Padres.

"I was 11 or 12, and Mark Merchant was a center fielder and switch-hitter at Oviedo High School," Bellhorn recalled. "I decided to try [switch-hitting] out. A lot of people told me it was going to help me get to the big leagues.

"It's not easy, switch-hitting. I've got different swings from both sides, and it comes and goes. I'm usually swinging a little better from one side, but I try to keep it as balanced as I can.

"The way I look at it, the more things you can do, the better chance you have of making a team."

He's bidding for a regular job at second base, but Bellhorn has the versatility to serve as a bench option for manager Bruce Bochy if rookie Josh Barfield claims the position formerly graced by Mark Loretta, now with the Red Sox.

"He can do a lot of things," Bochy said of Bellhorn, 31, signed as a free agent after a disappointing 2005 season spent with the Red Sox and Yankees. "He has power, he hits from both sides, and he can play a lot of positions.

"We signed him to be on the ballclub. He's on the club, an important member of this club. We're going to go deep in the spring before we decide which way we're going to go [at second base]. It comes down to what's the best thing for Josh and this ballclub."

With all the hats and gloves he can wear, Bellhorn would prefer to focus on one job. His best seasons were 2002 with the Cubs and '04 with the World Series champion Red Sox, when he played regularly at second and delivered power production -- 27 homers in '02, 17 in '04.

"I still believe I can play every day," said Bellhorn, a .236 career hitter with .349 on-base and .403 slugging marks. "Spring Training's always a good time for me to show I can still do it on an everyday basis.

"I came here with the idea that you can't ever take anything for granted. You've got to keep proving every day that you're good enough to play at this level and get playing time."

If that means serving as a super-sub as Barfield establishes himself, Bellhorn is wise enough to know there are a lot worse things to do in life.

spring training 2006
News and features:
• Thursday's game highlights:  350K
• Bochy on 2006 Padres:  350K
• Wednesday's game highlights:  350K
• Peavy readies for Opening Day:  350K
• Tuesday's game highlights:  350K
• Barfield on winning 2B job:  350K
Spring Training info: coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

"I didn't have a strong year last year," Bellhorn said, having batted .210 with eight homers and 30 RBIs with 300 at-bats for Boston and New York. "I appreciate this opportunity.

"Teams look at me as a guy who can play all four infield positions and probably the outfield. Being versatile helps. Sometimes you've just got to get your foot in the door."

Originally drafted by the Padres in the 37th round in 1992 out of high school, Bellhorn elected to attend Auburn University and was taken by the A's in the second round in '95. He rose swiftly through their system, reaching Oakland in '97.

After spending parts of four seasons with the A's in a variety of roles, Bellhorn was shipped to the Cubs before the 2002 season. The Cubs shifted him to third base after his excellent '02 showing at second, and in June 2003 he was dealt to Colorado, playing sparingly before getting sent to Boston.

Bellhorn had his biggest career moments in the postseason for those unforgettable Red Sox, delivering three homers and eight RBIs in 36 ALCS and World Series at-bats to help power that club to wins in its final eight games against the Yankees and Cardinals.

"Amazing," Bellhorn said, summing up the experience. "I went to Boston from Colorado, where I didn't play much, and guys got hurt and I'm out there."

He is reunited with three of those champion Sox -- Dave Roberts, Doug Mirabelli and Alan Embree -- in San Diego, hoping to bring some of that '04 magic to the border city.

"It makes the transition a little easier when you're around a little while," Bellhorn said. "You get to know guys you've played with and against. It gives you someone to talk to about how to go about things."

He describes himself as "pretty reserved, quiet -- but confident.

"At some point you realize at this level that you have to have that confidence in yourself to be out there every day," Bellhorn said.

Embarking on his ninth Major League season, he pauses to thank fellow Oviedo High alum Merchant for helping pave the way.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.