According to the U.S. National Vital Statistics System, Mark Donato will likely live 76.2 years, giving him 27,813 days to accumulate memories. Of those 24-hour periods, few figure to foster as much enjoyment as June 6, when the Kansas City Royals made him the 793rd selection in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
The 20-year-old first baseman has begun his professional progression as a rookie baller in Sunrise, Ariz., and hopes one day, in the not-so-distant future, to return the American League Central squad, with eight consecutive losing seasons, to contender status.
“I was watching on my computer and was pretty amazed,” the Third-and-Ritner-streets native said Friday of going to the Missouri team in the 26th round. “I had known they were interested, but I was surprised nonetheless.”
The recipient of letters from mostly every big league club, the 6-foot-2 slugger had strongly felt he would not be returning to Florida’s Indian River State College for his junior year. In two seasons, he amassed a .308 batting average, 10 home runs and 71 runs batted for the Pioneers, fulfilling a desire bred from time with the Philadelphia Senators, who play at Sunoco Field, 3501 Moore St., to be a Sunshine State collegiate. Having excelled as a first baseman and a pitcher for Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., Donato parted with the latter’s duties upon his 2010 graduation.
“Indian River wanted me for first base and though I loved pitching, I accepted my role and did whatever to help us to win games,” he said.
The criminal justice major often punished enemy hurlers, especially during his more productive freshman campaign, which yielded seven home runs and 44 RBI. Scouts charted his strokes, and correspondence followed, although he had believed he might end up in the National League.
“The [San Francisco] Giants and the [Colorado] Rockies came up a few times,” Donato said, “but I’m eager to improve as player regardless of location.”
A perennial playoff participant from the late 1970s through the mid-’80s, the Royals, whom the Phillies dispatched in six games to win the ’80 World Series, have recorded only one winning season since ’94, going 83-79 in 2003. Only once since their last above-.500 year have they avoided losing at least 90 games, and this year’s representatives might not reverse the trend.
“The franchise has had a rough run but has great talent, especially in the minor-league system,” Donato said of his employer, whose Kauffman Stadium hosted July 10’s All-Star Game. “I think we’ll be strong very soon.”
The 1985 World Series champions assigned the Whitman product to the Grand Canyon State, and he has shifted well from being an amateur to a salaried adult.
“I’ve found it easy to mesh with everyone because I have great coaches and teammates,” Donato said. “I’m playing against the best competition there is, trying to beat guys who were high picks, but I just try to be the best that I can.”
Following a four-day-on, one-day-off schedule, the left-hander has developed a routine that keeps him aware of his need to impress, arriving for practice at 2 p.m., with games occupying him through 11 p.m.
“My proudest accomplishments have been holding the cleanup hitter spot in the lineup and going out and handling first base,” the 225-pound specimen, who smacked his first home run July 16, said of his initial 25 games, through which he is hitting .275. “I’m committing myself to being a student of the game, and I’m learning something new each day.”
Though his professional existence has him looking to distinguish himself, Donato crafted an unquestionably brilliant secondary career for the Saints. He transferred from Roman Catholic High School to Neumann-Goretti after his freshman year and immediately rejuvenated the struggling program, capturing the 2008 Blue Division MVP award, the first sophomore to claim the honor. The next year, he helped his East Passyunk Crossing school to its first Catholic League championship in 49 years, tossing a gem against La Salle College High School in the final to earn a 3-1 victory and the game MVP. He capped his experience by going 6-0 with a 1.10 earned run average and registering 72 strikeouts in 44 and two-thirds innings as a senior, again winning the division MVP. He finished his South Philly tenure with a 22-2 pitching mark and earned All-Catholic status as a hurler and a first baseman all three years.
“I enjoyed my time at Neumann-Goretti,” Donato, who wears number 15 for the Royals just like he did for his alma mater, said. “Just my whole time in South Philly has given me a better understanding of putting out my best effort.”
While still adjusting to hard fastballs, the young man has already conquered the Arizona heat.
“Wow, it was brutal the first few days, with temperatures as high as 112 degrees,” Donato said. “It took me a couple weeks to adjust, but I’m over the heat now.”
Donato and the other newbies will remain together through Aug. 29. Depending on their results and his output, he could end up receiving an invitation to a six-week instructional league. His talent could then lead him through the Royals system, with stops in Idaho, North Carolina, Illinois, Delaware, Arkansas and Nebraska likely. A Delaware assignment would make him a Wilmington Blue Rock, which would enable his friends and family to see him as a Class A-Advanced player.
“I can only do my part on the field,” Donato said. “The organization is stacked with good players, so I’m going to give my all to even think about making the majors.”
If he earns time with the parent club, he will certainly take aim at its stadium’s 330-foot right-field fence. Having smoked two right field blasts in a ’10 Carpenter Cup game, he has the power and confidence to delight fans.
“I always want whatever team I’m on to grow,” he said, “or I wouldn’t step out on the diamond.”
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.