PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mark Kotsay is a baseball lifer.
And the game is better for it.
At the age of 37, Kotsay is getting ready for his 18th season in pro ball, including 17 in the big leagues. He has become the sage in the San Diego Padres' clubhouse.
Whenever a position player has a question, Kotsay has a life experience he can relate.
Kotsay has been a regular. He's been an extra man. Kotsay was a first-round Draft choice of the Marlins in 1996, the ninth player taken overall. He won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in college baseball, and was the Most Outstanding Player of the '95 College World Series, when he was the center fielder and closer on Cal State Fullerton's third national championship team.
Kotsay has played for seven big league teams, and he is spending the spring preparing for the second season of his second tour of duty with the Padres. He was part of the Marlins team that lost a franchise-record 108 games in 1998, and was part of postseason teams with Oakland in 2006, Boston in '08 and Milwaukee in '11.
Kotsay has batted leadoff, eighth and every spot in between. He is left-handed, which limits his options defensively, but has played all three outfield positions and first base.
"The game has been good to me," Kotsay said. "I respect it. I respect the people involved. My career has given me a chance to experience different situations. I have experienced the highs and lows. I have been injured. If I can help a teammate, it's the least I can do.
"I usually let them approach me, unless it's an in-game situation."
Once the approach is made, the guidance is delivered.
As Padres teammate Kyle Blanks put it, Kotsay is "someone who has absolutely mastered his craft."
Kotsay isn't close to being done yet. He wants to play as long as he can, and once retirement beckons, he will have plenty of opportunities to extend his career.
"I might take maybe a summer off," Kotsay said. "I haven't had a summer to myself since I was a freshman in high school, so that would be interesting. After that … the game has blessed me with an incredible life."
That's one thing about having moved around as much as Kotsay has. He has met a number of baseball people and earned their respect along the way.
"He has that innate sense for the game," said Boston special assignment scout Gary Hughes, who was Florida's scouting director when the Marlins originally signed Kotsay. "You watch him and say, 'He's a baseball player.' He is fundamentally so sound. He understands what he is doing so well."
And Kotsay enjoys the game, so much.
"I love what I do," he said of his continuing pursuit of a big league job. "I know the competitive aspect of life drives me. The game fulfills that. It's better than a round of golf.
"Outside of a locker room, you'll never find the camaraderie of a group of men trying to accomplish one goal over the course of seven months."
Kotsay was a star quarterback and baseball player at Santa Fe Springs (Calif.) High School who began to focus on baseball after his junior year, playing on a travel team for the first time. Then came three years at Fullerton. He spent only 131 games in the Minor Leagues before getting to the big leagues for good.
Kotsay, however, has not had a chance to play in a World Series, and he admits, "obviously I'm not playing [at this stage] for any accomplishment other than winning a World Series. That drives every player."
Kotsay has been close. He was a part of the 1997 World Series champion Marlins, called up to play in 14 July games just a year after being drafted. But Kotsay was sent back out in August and wasn't added to the postseason roster. Each of the three postseason teams he's played on advanced to their League Championship Series, including the 2008 Boston Red Sox, who lost a seven-game American League Championship Series to Tampa Bay.
Now, Kotsay is in San Diego, a team that is undergoing an overhaul and counting on him to provide leadership.
"This is an organization where I have the ability to be one of the veteran leaders and [see] the building process through if my ability allows me to stay," said Kotsay. "This is a group of guys I believe in. … I also know that the grass is not greener on the other side."
And playing for the Padres at this stage of his career has a bonus.
Kotsay, his wife and three children live in the San Diego area.
"That's something that doesn't always happen in this game, and last year I found out what it is like," he said. "I can actually be involved in my children's school, sports and church. When we are home, I can take them to school and drop them off."
Then, Kotsay can head to the ballpark and get back into that comfort zone.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.