As The Dove Flies

Feb. 27, 2012

By Matt Winklejohn

Sting Daily

Sam Dove had three hits Friday, one Saturday, and three Sunday. Georgia Tech won Friday, lost Saturday and won Sunday.

So, we know now that as Dove goes, the Yellow Jackets fly. Or something like that.

That generalization was silly, of course, but it is absolutely prudent to point out that players like the junior from Brentwood, Tenn., are essential ingredients for successful college baseball teams. You need guys who overcome, out-perform expectations and generally lay down a template of work ethic that is contagious. Guys like Same Dove help a team forge a collective identity that goes beyond the value of who can hit a curve ball and who can throw a 94 mph cut fastball.

“No doubt,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall. “He’s a lot like Mike Trapani was in 2006, a guy that walked on and kind of earned his stripes, earned his playing time and then took advantage of the playing time he got. Those guys make you a good team because everybody can’t be on scholarship, and when you get a like that who is very smart and got into Georgia Tech on his own . . . valuable, valuable guy.”

The Jackets strafed Ohio State 13-4 Sunday to win a strange series in which Tech won by a combined 25-8 in the Friday and Saturday games, yet lost 7-3 Saturday to a team that to my eye on Sunday (was at the Tech basketball game Saturday) has a long way to go to be in the Jackets’ league.

Had Dove taken the path of lesser resistance, he would’ve ended up in a lesser college league.

He walked on at Tech. That’s certainly not rare in the sport as Division I teams have to split 11.7 scholarships around rosters that usually hold 35 or so players.

Ranked No. 10, the Jackets are 6-2 and — as at this point in every season — still searching for their identity.

What’s left of last season’s massive 17-member freshman class forms the core of the squad, but never is the core all that matters. As a fan of the Lakers many years ago, my favorite player was not Kareem or Magic, nor James Worthy; I was into Kurt Rambis and later A.C. Green.

On my early favorite Reds teams, I pulled hardest not for Bench, Rose, Morgan nor Tony Perez but George Foster even before he went berzerk for a few years in the mid-1970s. He scored the run that sent the Reds to the first World Series about which I had a clue. Nevermind that he scored on a wild pitch. I appreciated Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson, Randy White and Harvey Martin. I loved Rayfield Wright, Billy Joe Dupree and D.D. Lewis.

Those guys worked in the shadows, but they busted their tails doing it and without their dirty work, the Lake Show didn’t go, the Reds didn’t roll, and the Cowboys didn’t win — at least not as much.

There’s no shadow about Dove, actually, although he’s been a utility man himself. Last year, he worked chiefly in the outfield. This season, he’s working mostly at second and third base. This past weekend, he hit in the No. 7, 5 and 6 spots. You ask, he answers without questions in return.

A strapping 6-feet-2, blond and somewhat golden in appearance (spare me the man crush jokes), he’s not exactly the silent type. He’s not sheepish. He’s an outright worker. No apologies will he give for working in your face.

“I grew up not really having any connection with Tech. I just wanted to go here,” he said in the afterglow of Sunday’s rout. “I’d heard of the engineering program combined with the great baseball program and it attracted me from a young age. As I got older, though high school, I realized I could possibly play at this level so I worked hard.”

The term “walk-on” can be misleading. Dove didn’t show up out of nowhere and surprise Hall and his staff.

He attended a Tech baseball camp in the fall of his senior year in high school, did well, and was told that there would be a roster spot for him if he was interested. No money would come with it, but he’s a smart guy (4.0 grade point average in high school, and a two-time ACC Academic honor roller) and he read the landscape before him and figured that he could make it work.

Dove played in a modest 14 games as a freshman, and then hit .310 last season without an error in 49 games in the outfield. He’s pretty good. “I had the confidence that I could come here,” he said. “I’m trying to make the most of it.”

A materials science major (please let me know what that means), Dove said he doesn’t care where he plays. “I have fun at all of them,” he said. “But hitting is really my joy.”

Now, he provides intangibles the likes of which every successful team needs.

“I would say for sure,” Hall said. “Here’s a guy who probably could have gone some players on a small scholarship, a smaller DI school. But he chose Georgia Tech because of the education, and he wanted a chance to kind of prove himself at this level and he’s done it.”

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