Sorry for the delay (in case anyone was following my plight).
I got sidetracked with other projects and once you install something in a closet behind some stuff, its just a pain to make yourself go uninstall it.. even if I used terminal strips to speed up the connections..
Anyway - I clipped the wire that connected the w5100 board's reset and the arduino, and instead connected it to digital pin 7 on the Pro Mini. Added the code below at the top of my setup() function and now it seems to be working like a champ on the bench.
delay(50); //wait for voltage to stabilize
pinMode(7, OUTPUT); //pin connected to w5100 shield's reset
digitalWrite(7, LOW); //pull line low for 100ms to reset ethernet shield
digitalWrite(7, HIGH); //set line high and now ignore pin the rest of the time
Thanks for the help and guidance guys!