It's been something of a circuitous route to professional baseball for Brandon Marklund.
The North Vancouver native left home to play college ball at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. After his college career, he played with the Morehead City Marlins in the Coastal Plain League, a collegiate league which is represented by teams from Virginia to Georgia.
His next opportunity took him more than 11,000 kilometres from home, as he trekked to New Zealand to pitch for the newly former Auckland Tuatara, the country's first professional baseball team and one of two expansion teams added to the Australian Baseball League in 2018. Making 14 appearances for the team, Marklund compiled a 2.29 ERA over 19 2/3 innings as a reliever, striking out 15 batters. Those numbers earned him a finalist spot in the voting for ABL Pitcher of The Year.
When the season concluded in Australia, Marklund kept up the grind, flying back to the United States and attending a tryout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. By this point, he had already planned to play with the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the American Association, an independent minor league.
However, it was after a showcase tryout for a group of scouts in Kansas City that Marklund gained the attention of the Kansas City Royals. They liked what they saw, and wasted no time acting on their interest. On Jan. 31, Marklund announced on social media that he had signed a contract with the Royals.
And just like that, he was ready to make his first appearance in affiliated baseball, taking the mound for the Class-A Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League. Marklund has had little difficulty at that level: he's pitched 15 1/3 innings in relief, allowing only one run (in his first game), walking seven and striking out 15 batters, compiling a 0.59 ERA. On June 20, he earned his first win in a tilted battle vs. the Greenville Drive, a game in which the Legends fought to hold a sizable early lead. A grand slam in the ninth against Marklund brought the Drive to within one run of the lead, but the reliever held that lead during his two-inning stint and the Legends took the 8-7 win.
Marklund has come a long way, and he gives much credit and high praise to his coach and teammates with the Tuatara.
“Firstly, it's a great organization,” he began. “The people that were with Auckland, the front office, the management, were world class. They treated me like another Kiwi, really.”
“First day, after a 16-hour flight, I was at the main offices of the stadium that they're building there. They had me do a TV interview, I got to meet coach [Steve] Mintz for the first time. I knew from that first day that I was going to be a part of something special.”
“They definitely take their baseball seriously.”
He also formed some friendships with fellow players, some of whom gave him some insight into his own approach on the mound.
“We had a couple of ex-big leaguers. Josh Collmenter, Scott Richmond, John Holdzkom. Collmenter was actually my throwing partner, the whole time I was down there. It was really cool to throw with him, every day, sort of see what he does, and pick his brain about things.”
“More importantly, it was great just to hang out with the guy. He was a big-leaguer for eight, nine years, and he was just a stand-up, world-class guy. He never pulled rank, or anything. He had a ton of cool stories.”
“And Richmond! Fellow Canadian, really cool. He joined us in Canberra around Week 7, I think. He was another guy who helped me out. We're actually from the same area in Vancouver, and it was super cool to talk to him about things.”
“Holdzkom, too, was another guy who was cool to have around. Another former big-leaguer. He's trying to revamp his career, a bit.”
Marklund was quick to mention the interest shown by the Royals, and the scout who ultimately signed him, in particular. While Marklund was with the Tuatara, playing on the road versus Sydney in Week 9, a crowd of scouts were in the same area attending the U-18 Australian Youth Championship.
“Neil Burton was a scout who had actually signed one of my teammates, previously: Daniel Lamb-Hunt. So he just started a conversation with me, said he was really interested. So he ended up talking to his boss, while I was heading back to the States for that workout with Arizona and a couple of other teams.”
“And so I had to fly back to Auckland, get my stuff, fly to Vancouver for a day at home, then fly to Atlanta and drive from there. It was a few pretty jam-packed days,” Marklund said.
“But the Royals showed a lot of interest, and that they cared about what I had to offer. And I thought that, out of all the teams that were interested in me, the Royals were the best fit.”
“And I've noticed in the five months since I've signed with them, that my intuition was right about them. It's a great organization. They've helped a ton with my development. I've had some of the best coaches I've ever had in my life, here. They care about players as people; all the staff, too, not just the management.”
“It's been a fantastic couple of months,” he concluded.
While Marklund seems to have settled into his relief role, he also is quick to note the level of talent in this league.
“I've noticed that it's a lot more electric, here,” he said. “The talent level overall is, I would say, higher than in the ABL, so you have to be ready for that.”
“But over my time in summer ball with the Morehead City Marlins, my time in Australia ... I've learned a lot about myself, as a pitcher. What works, what my best out pitches are, and these recent experiences have helped me become a lot more comfortable with my mechanics, understanding how I throw, and what I need to do to throw well.”
In the end, it was the Auckland experience, in large part, that helped Marklund reach a point at which he felt comfortable as a professional.
“I never felt scared, on the mound. These guys were talented, and there were some tough batters, but I learned to be comfortable in the game, and I became confident in my ability to get batters out. I felt like I belonged out there.”
As the Legends closed out the first half of the season in first place, they have a guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. They'll take with them a pitcher who has accrued more travel miles in the past year than most of us will in a decade.