Rapid City native Mark Ellis is about to join one mighty exclusive club.
Its membership has little to do with fielding percentage, runs batted in or power at the plate, but being honored as the American Legion’s Graduate of the Year requires a special kind of baseball pedigree.
Ellis, who now plays for the National League’s Los Angeles Dodgers, will be presented with the designation before his team’s May 25 home game against the Houston Astros.
The American Legion recognizes one alumnus who has gone above and beyond his Major League Baseball duties to be a pillar in the community and an example for future generations of players. Former Rapid City Post 22 coach Dave Ploof, who coached Ellis from 1992-1995, said he and his wife, Patty Ploof, nominated the 34-year-old for the award about five years ago, and Ellis’ turn came up at the American Legion’s fall meetings in 2011.
Jim Quinlan, the national program coordinator for Legion baseball, said individual state coordinators agree on their choice at fall meetings, and he then tries to coordinate a time to present the recipient with an onyx trophy.
Ellis, a Rapid City Stevens graduate, was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers this past December, so figuring out an agreeable date was a bit trickier than normal, Quinlan said.
But May 25 worked for all sides, and Ploof was notified of the date late last month. He and Patty will be making the trip to Dodger Stadium, where they’ll join Ellis on the field for a pregame ceremony.
“Mark was an outstanding Legion baseball player. He was on the national championship team here (in 1993), and he was the player of the year twice for South Dakota,” Ploof said Tuesday. “It’s going to be extremely neat. On and off the field, Mark is a quality person and quite deserving of this honor.”
Ellis is in good company as a Graduate of the Year. He joins Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Johnny Bench, among others, and is on the list with contemporary stars such as Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols and Justin Verlander.
Don Mattingly, the Dodgers’ current manager, received the award in 1987.
Quinlan said Ellis’ contributions to charity and the communities of Oakland and Denver — Ellis’ prior stops were with the Athletics and Rockies — swung the vote in his favor.
“We consider this our highest honor in American Legion baseball,” Quinlan said. “What separated Mark was his ability to do something extra for the community. He’s not in baseball playing only for the money. He believes in that community service, in the ethics he received from his family and the folks from Rapid City that guided him while he played Post 22 baseball. It’s rewarding for us and warming to our hearts to see a young man give something back. It’s pretty special.”
Entering play Tuesday night, Ellis was batting .263 with a home run and eight runs batted in. He had yet to commit an error at second base. Ellis is a career.266 hitter with 93 homers and 467 RBI.
While with the A’s, Ellis was a two-time winner of the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Award, given to the team’s most courageous, competitive and inspirational player.