He Prospers in a Leading Role : Colleges: From the leadoff position, Matt Marks has emerged as one of Loyola Marymount's best players.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In many respects, outfielder Matt Marks of Loyola Marymount does not fit the stereotype of a leadoff batter: He lacks speed and is anything but a singles hitter.

But Marks has stepped forward to become a spark plug for the Lions.

"He's a leadoff guy who doesn't really fit the leadoff role," Coach Jody Robinson said. "He's not a base stealer, but he has a little sock and he can drag bunt for a base hit once in a while."

More than half of Marks' hits this season have been for extra bases. Marks, 22, ranks second in the West Coast Conference in home runs with nine and doubles with 17.

He is tied for 10th on the school's all-time list for doubles in a season. He needs a double in the Lions' season-ending, three-game series at Pepperdine today and Saturday to move into a tie for ninth with Chris Donnels.

Six of Marks' homers have been solo shots, including three to lead off a game.

"They call me Markso Solo because I always hit home runs with no one on base," he said. "My roommate (pitcher R.J. Kirkland) gave me that name and my teammates call me that a lot. Even a female trainer said that to me once.

"It's kind of odd. When the bases are loaded, I don't hit home runs. But I can think of a couple of times when there were people on base."

Batting leadoff isn't exactly second nature to Marks.

"I've never been a leadoff hitter before this season," he said. "All of my career, I've been hitting in the three and four spots in a position to knock in runs and get (runs batted in). But I like the way (Dodger outfielder) Brett Butler plays, so maybe that has something to do with it."

Marks earned the leadoff spot with his play during the fall season.

"I showed a knack for getting on base, so they wanted me up there."

Said Robinson: "He was a guy who got on base a lot and he had experience from last year. I don't mind a guy getting a home run or double to start a baseball game."

It also gave Marks an opportunity to play regularly.

That was a big difference from his junior season when he batted .393 in only 28 at bats. He was used mostly as a pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement.

But Marks, who played at Santa Clara High and San Jose City College before transferring to Loyola after his sophomore season, could not earn a starting job.

"After a while, I started to enjoy my role as a pinch-hitter," he said. "I looked forward to going up there to hit and come in as a late-inning replacement."

But this season is different.

"It's a good feeling to finally be an everyday starter and produce," Marks said.

Although Marks has stepped into a leadership role, the rest of the Lions have not followed. Loyola is 15-34, its worst record since 1983.

"It's been a case of inexperience in critical situations as well as talent," Marks said. "We have to learn that we have to play all nine innings, and we always seem to have that breakdown at a crucial time. But they're learning from this year. It's good for next year, but for this year it's a little too late."

Marks says he would like nothing better than to finish his college career by defeating rival Pepperdine (35-10-1), which is ranked No. 4 in the nation.

"They always get up for us like we do for them," he said. "It's a rivalry and they aren't looking at it as a tuneup. But it would be nice to go out on a good note."

It may be even more important to Marks because he does not expect to be selected in the June amateur draft.

"It would be a surprise if I got drafted," he said. "I'd like to have a chance, but nobody's even talked to me. I'd like a shot but I don't think I'll get it. If I get the call, I get the call. But I don't want to get too carried away about it because I don't want to be too disappointed."

But Marks might have a future in the game. A communications major, Marks dreams of being a baseball announcer.

Although he wasn't a student at Santa Clara University, he worked at the school's radio station as a disc jockey. He also held a similar job at San Jose City College.

"I was a regular with my own spot at San Jose, but I had to come down here so I could play baseball," Marks said. "I also did public address at basketball games at San Jose and they asked me to do public address at (high school) playoff games up north."

Marks has also had an opportunity to practice his announcing skills between pitches when he is on the field or in the dugout.

"I'll practice sometimes during games when I'm in center field," he said. "Anything that happens, I'm on it right away. I try to keep my teammates entertained and informed."

But Marks knows it is a difficult career to break into.

"I know it's a long road but I'm willing to take it," he said. "Next semester I'm interning for Prime Ticket, so I'll have a chance to see what it's all about."

Marks also knows that he will have to start out on a small scale.

"I know I'll probably be out somewhere in Oklahoma or Wyoming doing minor league games," he said. "But I'll do whatever I have to do to get there. You never start at the top. You have to work your way up."

Robinson, for one, thinks that Marks has potential as a broadcaster.

"I told the Prime Ticket guy, 'Watch out, this guy wants your job,' " Robinson said. "He's pretty good at it. I don't know if it's just his antics or if that's what he really wants to do in his life, but he keeps us entertained."

Robinson thinks he could hear from Marks in the future.

"It wouldn't surprise me to be driving around in my car on a recruiting trip and hearing this guy's voice," he said. "All of a sudden, I'll hear, 'This is Matt Marks from beautiful Buck Shaw Stadium.' "

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