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Memory Lane: Mark Conkin

Bill Lane • Aug 1, 2010 at 8:36 AM

Mark Conkin

Born: Dec. 15, 1957

Where: Kingsport

Residence: Blountville

High School/Colleges: Sullivan West/Spartanburg Methodist, East Tennessee State, Delta State

Then: Mark Conkin has been around the block in sports and he isn’t done yet.

As player/coach/talent scout, he has completed the cycle from Little League baseball to the World Series. He seems just as comfortable working with middle school athletes as he did coaching college baseball or evaluating professional prospects.

Conkin was an outstanding two-sport athlete at Sullivan West High School, played and coached college baseball and had a successful 13-year scouting career with two major league teams.

Sullivan West coaches Carl Childress, Gordon Zollman and Jim Norton were major influences in shaping Conkin’s life. “I intended to become a coach and those three men were ideal role models,’’ he said.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Conkin’s first love has always been baseball, but he got high marks playing high school basketball as well.

He won the Upper Lakes Conference scoring championship as a senior in the 1974-75 season with a 19.6-point average, beating out Lynn View sophomore Rodney Arnold for the honor.

Conkin scored a lot of baskets on penetration. His highest total was a 30-point effort against Ketron. Conkin, a two-year starter, also led his team in rebounding as a senior.

Sullivan West reached the substate in both his junior and senior seasons, winning a total of 42 basketball games. The Pirates’ hopes of making a state tournament appearance were squashed by Happy Valley and Friendsville.

After being selected to the all-conference, all-district and all-region squads, Conkin played in the TSSAA East-West All-Star Classic at Murfreesboro under coaches Buck Van Huss and Charlie Bayless. He and Dobyns-Bennett’s Tony Eckel represented the Tri-Cities area on the 10-man East team.

“It was exciting to see new faces, to play in Murphy Center with a lot of talent on the floor and to be associated with Buck,’’ Conkin said. “He was instrumental in my signing at Spartanburg Methodist.’’

Conkin was an all-conference outfielder for the Pirates baseball team, hitting .350 during the wooden-bat era.

“It was every boy’s dream to play big-league ball,’’ Conkin said. “I fell in love with the game down in the Little Leagues and Sullivan West’s tradition had always been good.’’

Conkin, playing on a Spartanburg team with future major leaguers Mookie Wilson (Mets) and Bill Landrum (Cubs), saw his career cut short by a back injury that resulted in surgery.

He always seemed to land with quality coaches. “I’ve been blessed more than I deserve being around good mentors,’’ Conkin said.

While working toward his degree at ETSU, Conkin assisted Clarence Mabe and Dave Torgeson one spring at Daniel Boone High School. He helped Dave Hoover the next year at D-B.

He was hired as an assistant at Delta State by legendary coach “Boo” Ferriss, the AL Rookie of the Year with Boston in 1946.

When John Whited left an assistant’s position at ETSU in 1980 to become head coach at the University of Tennessee, Conkin took his spot on Charlie Lodes’ staff.

He was then hired by San Francisco as a scout. His territory included East Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. His scouting director was Jack Schwarz, the man who signed Willie Mays.

The Oakland Athletics hired away Conkin in 1985 and he stayed with them until 1994. He scouted in the Carolinas at first, then got promoted to cross-checker for the entire eastern United States and traveled extensively.

“The thing I liked about scouting was the challenge,’’ he said. “It was going out and finding guys who could play in the big leagues. That was a fun time. At age 23, I was one of the youngest scouts ever and the older ones took me under their wing.’’

During Conkin’s time with Oakland, the A’s went to the World Series three consecutive years: 1988, ’89 and ’90. They lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988 and to Cincinnati in 1990. Oakland beat San Francisco in the 1989 Series, which was disrupted by an earthquake.

“I was seated behind the third-base dugout at Candlestick Park. We felt a vibration before the game started and it was called off,’’ said Conkin, who was with the official party — players and their wives, management and staff — which had traveled in buses across the Bay.

“We were at the ballpark and didn’t know about the devastation until later,’’ Conkin said. “They took us the long way around to avoid bridges while returning to Oakland.’’

Among Conkin’s top signees were Alan Cockrell, Walt Weiss and Lee Tinsley. All three reached the majors.

“Football coach Johnny Majors was on a fishing trip when I signed Cockrell (Tennessee’s quarterback),’’ Conkin said. “My phone rang off the hook with irate Vol fans calling.’’

More recently, Conkin was King College’s head coach. His teams won nearly 100 games in three years. King earned the Appalachian Athletic Conference regular-season title in 2008.

He was struck in the face by a relay throw to third base in 2009, suffering a broken nose, broken eye socket and shattered cheekbone. Conkin resigned over retirement issues.

He’s coaching softball at Colonial Heights Middle, where he had coached basketball and baseball for nine years before joining King.

Now: He is married to the former Ginger Powers, a physical therapist, who played on a state runner-up basketball team at Jonesville High School. They have three children — Brooke, a Central Heights teacher; Brad, a Kingsport policeman, and Kaylin, a rising seventh-grader at Colonial Heights.

Bill Lane is a Times-News sports writer. E-mail him at blane@timesnews.net.

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