RENO - It was evident as he spoke to the Western Nevada College baseball team Friday that Mark Kotsay is a player's player.
The 32-year-old Kotsay, who would be the keynote speaker for WNC's fifth annual intercollegiate fund-raising dinner in the Tuscany Ballroom at the Peppermill, spent a full hour fielding questions, telling stories and supplying humor for the Wildcats in a private room before the event.
"It was great. I asked (WNC coach D.J. Whittemore) to spend 30 minutes with the players, but it went a little long," said Kotsay, who on Monday was traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Atlanta Braves, where he'll replace Andruw Jones in center field. "I wanted a one-on-one with the team as opposed (to the dinner), which is less personal."
Judging by the laughter and rapt attention the Wildcats paid Kotsay, his goal of sharing his experiences in a less formal environment was a hit.
Kotsay grew up in Whittier, Calif., and was an outfielder-closer for Cal-State Fullerton when it defeated USC in the 1995 College World Series. He also won the Golden Spikes Award - honoring USA Baseball's best amateur player - that year.
Although he was the ninth pick of the amateur draft in 1997, when he was selected by the Florida Marlins, Kotsay, who also played for the San Diego Padres (2001-03), spoke to the Wildcat players about how he wasn't even expected to play at a Division I university.
"I wasn't the biggest, I wasn't the fastest and I didn't have the five tools everyone was looking for," Kotsay said.
But by working on the weakest part of his game - as opposed to the strongest - and by learning to be a teammate, Kotsay has done well enough to be going into his 11th season in the major leagues.
Touching on making smart real-life choices while at the same time enjoying the college experience ("the greatest time of my life," he said), Kotsay also had fun at his own expense, telling the Wildcats what it was like to be struck out by Mariano Rivera and Randy Johnson.
Kotsay, one of the game's finest outfielders and a career .282 hitter, played his own straight man as he belittled his .214 average last season as he dealt with a bad back.
He underwent a microdiscectomy at the L-3, L-4 level, on March 8, and played in only 56 games before going back on the disabled list in August.
"Hopefully things are turning the corner," he said. "I have a history with my back."
Kotsay also has a little history in Northern Nevada. He is married to Carson High School graduate Jamie (Scott) Kotsay, with whom he has three children (Grace, Sienna and newborn Trey), and in 2001 he purchased a home in Reno.
But the self-described "California guy" had enough after spending a couple of winters in the area and now owns a home in San Diego.
Kotsay, who began playing for the A's in 2004, said he is going to a team where he should have a good chance of success.
The Braves on Friday re-signed first baseman Mark Teixeira and will also have Tom Glavine on the mound at the start of the season.
"I'm really excited about it," Kotsay said. "It's a team with a lot of tradition and a winning history. They made some moves in the off-season to solidify things, so things go right."
And as long as things go right for him health-wise, Kotsay said he wants to hang around quite a while longer.
"I'd like to play four, five, six years - I don't want to put a limit on it," he said. "As long as I stay healthy and stay productive, I want to play."
If the Wildcats' reception of Kotsay is any indication, chances are his new teammates will want this player's player to stick around for a quite a while longer as well.