Former MLB-er on deck to become a US ambassador

Mark Gilbert batted leadoff in the same lineup with future Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Carlton Fisk, tracked down a flyball lofted by Eddie Murray and hit a key single off Orel Hershiser.

Now the former Chicago White Sox outfielder is on deck for a new position: If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll become the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand.

The U.S. State Department said it couldn’t find any other record of a former major league player having served as an ambassador.

Gilbert played seven games for the White Sox in July 1985. Fleet and good with the glove, he hit .273, scored three runs and drove in three for manager Tony La Russa’s team.

“Sure, I remember him,” La Russa told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I was always taken with his intelligence and how he was committed to what we were trying to teach _ to become a teammate, a competitor and to pursue excellence as a professional.”

“You do that and get a proper foundation and out of the bottom, out drops your fame and fortune. I think he’s now raised his excellence to a new level,” he said.

Told that ambassadors are often addressed as “His Excellency” or “Your Excellency,” La Russa chuckled.

“I think if Mark walks into a clubhouse with his old teammates, I don’t think they’re going to call him `Your Excellency,’” he said with a laugh.

Cal Ripken Jr., Barry Larkin and Dennis Martinez are among the many former big leaguers who have served the State Department in roles such diplomacy envoys, goodwill ambassadors and baseball sports envoys. Gilbert, incidentally, once hit a bases-loaded double off Martinez at Comiskey Park.

Next up, a rookie diplomat in a new field.

“Baseball is America’s pastime, so what better way to represent the United States overseas than with someone who, before he was a successful businessman, began his career as a major league baseball player?” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

“While this clearly wasn’t the reason for his nomination, it doesn’t hurt that ambassador-designate Gilbert played for the president’s favorite team, the Chicago White Sox,” she said. “As fans all around the country and the world, including die-hard Rex Sox fan Secretary of State John Kerry root for their teams in the World Series, Embassy Wellington is preparing to hopefully get a new manager sometime soon.”

President Barack Obama officially nominated Gilbert on Tuesday. The 57-year-old Gilbert has been a banking executive and was a member of the Obama for America national finance team.

Those nominated for ambassadorships typically don’t comment during the confirmation process.

Several baseball executives have become ambassadors. Among them, Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer served in Japan and Australia.

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