Whatever happened to … Mark Lemke

What he did: He was nicknamed "The Lemmer'' but Braves manager Bobby Cox liked to call him "the original dirt player'' because he never left the field with a clean uniform. Either way, Lemke will always be known as a the key ingredient when the Braves machine roll so mightily from 1991-96 and reached the World Series in four of the five completed seasons during that time. (The 1994 season was cut short by the strike).

How Lemke, at 5 feet 10 and 167 pounds, from a place (Utica, N.Y.) that gets perhaps five months of warm weather a year, made it to the majors is a story in itself. But while others stole many of the headlines, Lemke carried a huge load. He was strikingly good in the field (70 errors in 965 games) and clutch at the plate. Anyone following the Braves in 1991 will remember his clutch single on Oct. 1 off Cincinnati “Nasty Boy” Rob Dibble to help turn a 6-0 deficit into a 7-6 win on a David Justice homer. Or his three triples in the World Series later that month, the first player since 1947 to perform that feat. Or that he is the majors’ record-holder for most career plate appearances without being hit by a pitch (3,664).

Growing up in Utica, Lemke went to Notre Dame High School and, in addition to baseball, was a very good basketball player. When Lemke was set to graduate, he was ready to take a full baseball scholarship from Purdue University. Then he was taken by the Braves in the 27th round of the 1983 draft. Lemke visited Atlanta, worked out for the team and decided to sign, reporting to rookie ball in Brandeton, Fla., at 17.

His advancement to Atlanta was frustrating. He spent his first four years at rookie and Class A ball, but in 1986 he broke out at Class-A Sumter, hitting .272 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs. The Braves liked Lemke’s fielding ability all along and two years later on a Double-A Greenville team with David Justice and Kent Mercker, he hit .270 with 16 homers and 80 RBIs, which earned him a short call-up that September to Atlanta. (He went hitless in his first seven at-bats in a double header.)

He was back in Triple-A Richmond next spring and the Braves won the International League. The next year Lemke made the major league roster out of spring training but hurt himself in a freak accident in the stadium tunnel when he tripped and injured his ankle during a rain delay.

In 1991 with Bobby Cox back in dugout, Lemke platooned most of the season with Jeff Treadway but it was apparent the Braves were moving more towards Lemke. In the postseason in ’91, it was Lemke that led the way, hitting a team-high .417 in the seven-game World Series against the Twins. Lemke remained the team’s fulltime second baseman through the ’97 season, coming to the plate 257 times in 62 postseason games. He was the first National League player to get hits in all seven games of a league championship series in 1996 against St. Louis.

He was granted free agency after the ’97 season and played an injured-plagued year in Boston. Red Sox manager Jimy Williams, who had coached Lemke with the Braves, said at the time, “I’ve just seen him make so many plays and be in the middle of so many rallies a key times, in big games … he brings his own little sack lunch to the table, while all the other guys are eating filet.’’

After Boston, Lemke retired but came back as an Independent League knuckleball pitcher and coach with the New Jersey Jackals of the Northern League for two seasons.

Where he lives: When he retired, Lemke, 49, lived in Alpharetta but has lived for the last nine years in Sandy Springs.

What he does now: Lemke has been working on the Braves's pregame show going on nine years and fills in for analyst Don Sutton on radio broadcasts.

On being a second cousin twice removed of 1936 Union Party Presidential candidate William Lemke: "I have been asked about that a lot and haven't disputed it because it sounds pretty good.''

On doing announcing work for the Braves: "I love it, though it is something I didn't anticipate doing. I do quite a bit of prep work but I will tell you Twitter really helps me get ready for games.''

On making it in the majors despite his size: "It's kind of hard to explain. I look at guys going into the Hall of Fame and think about the fact that I played for many years with them … pretty amazing. I guess the best way to describe why I made it is I just grinded it. I was very determined.''

On where that grind came from: "That's easy. I have a sister and brother who are pharmacists and another sister who is a doctor. I was the youngest so I had a lot to look up to. I also had parents who taught me the right things.''

On being drafted by the Braves: "It was the third day of the draft and I remember the Phillies had called the day before, trying to get a feel from what I was going to do as far as my scholarship at Purdue. That might have been tampering but I remember my sister running in the house with a telegram that the Braves had drafted me. I went down to Atlanta with my parents and Paul Snyder was the big scouting guy and we really liked him. Plus my dad told me if I was just going to Purdue to play three years and get drafted, then I should just go ahead and sign with the Braves.''

On his time in rookie ball: "You think they are drafting you as the second baseman of the future and you go to rookie ball and all of a sudden, there are 15 other second basemen. The first guy I met was Ron Gant and I remember the second year I was in rookie ball, someone knocked on my door and it was Tom Glavine.''

On when he felt like he would get to the majors: "It was in '88 at Double-A. I knew then I had the talent and it now was going to become the mental side of the game if I was going to make it.''

On the '91 worst-to first-team: "It was the most incredible ride any of us could imagine. … That September with the Dodgers was like a playoff scenario every night.''

On his three triples in the World Series: "A triple for a guy like myself is hard and there was one other hit I had in the Series that I thought could have been a triple but I stopped at second.''

On his 1993 photo with teammate Jeff Blauser with the Atlanta Fulton-County press box on fire behind him: "It's the only photo I have up in my house. We kept turning around saying, 'When are they are going to get up there and get that fire?'''

On Cox: "I think to a man, we would all say he was the best. He gave us confidence that we could compete and win at that level and that is a hard thing with young kids.''

On the current Braves: "They may be in a rebuilding mode but not like the one we went through. I think they will have a competitive team this year and I don't think this will be a long process.''