After standout college career, Mustangs’ Fleury enduring ups and downs of rookie ball

2009-08-17T00:30:00Z After standout college career, Mustangs’ Fleury enduring ups and downs of rookie ballBy GREG RACHAC Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 17, 2009 12:30 am  • 

Three months ago, you could not remove the trademark smile from Mark Fleury's face.

He was in the midst of a career season at the University of North Carolina, was on his way to another College World Series and was a recent fourth-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Reds.

But in Fleury's short time with the Billings Mustangs, a Rookie league affiliate in the Reds' organization, his realization of what it takes to succeed has changed.

If people say he has struggled, Fleury will not argue.

"I'm one of those people, too," Fleury said recently. "I came in here thinking I was going to have the same success I did in college. It just hasn't come right away. I've been trying to do way too much and it has hurt me.

"I'm trying to live up to the thought of, 'Here's this fourth-round guy, and he should be producing a whole lot better than he has.' It's gotten to me. It's tough when you want to do so well and you don't."

Entering tonight's game with Idaho Falls at Dehler Park, Fleury is hitting just .176. He has struck out 19 times in 74 at bats and has hit only one home run.

Though he had thrown out 15 of 32 attempted base stealers Fleury was having trouble defensively behind the plate. His 11 passed balls were the most in the Pioneer League

When his game is on, Mustangs manager Julio Garcia says Fleury is a combination of potent hitting and equally formidable defense.

"He throws well, he's got good footwork behind the plate, and once he figures the bat out he'll be able to hit with power," Garcia said. "All of that is going to take awhile to get going, but once he does it he is going to move along quickly."

Added Fleury: "I feel like I've always been able to hit. I always have and I always will. This is just a bad time for me. I feel like my defense has been there all year. I feel like I've worked with the pitchers real well.

"That was the good thing about coming from (North) Carolina. We've had some of the top-notch arms in the country. So that's made the adjustment easier behind the plate."

Fleury's numbers pale in comparison to what he did in his final season at UNC, in which he hit .309 in 66 games, belted 12 home runs and amassed 60 RBIs.

Fleury also had a .989 fielding percentage, making just six errors while throwing out 69 percent of attempted base stealers.

A main cog on a team with top draft picks like first baseman Dustin Ackley (No. 2 overall by the Seattle Mariners), pitcher Alex White (No. 15 overall by the Cleveland Indians) and second baseman Kyle Seager (second round by the Seattle Mariners), Fleury got a perspective most players do not experience.

"Playing with guys like that brings up your level of play," Fleury said. "It's a competition within a competition. That's the best part about having players like that in the same situation that you are."

The Tar Heels went to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., in each of Fleury's three years with the team, reaching the championship round once.

But it has been far from smooth sailing from the moment he arrived at Dehler Park.

"The thing I've been having trouble with the most is my approach at the plate. I'm trying to do way too much and not helping out the ball club," Fleury said. "I've got to do what the team asks me to do to win a game. If a guy's on second with no outs you've got to get that guy over instead of popping up to the left side of the infield.

"I've just got to slow the game down, really. I'm trying not to do everything 110 miles an hour."

That's not to say Fleury hasn't shown off his potential in his time with the Mustangs.

Fleury cracked his only home run on July 20, a solo shot at Dehler Park against Ogden. He had his first multi-hit game five days later in Missoula.

And in a game at home against Helena on Aug. 6, Fleury scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning when he smacked a leadoff double off the center field wall, then came home from third base on a wild pitch.

Fleury has had his ups and downs, that's a fact. But no matter what has transpired to this point, he won't stop working to improve.

"I'm really excited to be a Cincinnati Red and to be in Billings," he said. "I was telling someone when I first got here that I wouldn't want to start my career in any other place.

"The Reds believe I can make it to the Major Leagues, and I'm a believer with them."

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