May 14, 2001
By Jack Williams
So you remember the old Abbott-Costello comedy routine, “Who’s on First?” Well, this much we know for sure. It’s not Jason Basil of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. That’s one of the few positions the guy hasn’t played this season.
With All-America Mark Teixeira and other key players sidelined with injuries much of the season, Basil, however, has played five different positions for the 17th ranked Jackets. In the process, the senior from West Chester, Ohio near Cincinnati once again has proved to be one of the top players in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Count ’em-right field, center field, left field, catcher and third base. He’s played them all and played them well.
Basil, however, likes to joke that he has trouble enough honing his fielding skills at just one position. “When I first came to Georgia Tech, the guys used to say they held their breath when a ball was hit to me in the outfield,” he said, tongue-in-cheek. “But now, I think my defense is improved. No one jokes anymore.”
No one ever really joked about Basil’s fielding-and certainly not about his hitting. He has smashed 27 home runs in the last two seasons. He currently hits .319 with 13 home runs, 11 doubles and 56 runs batted in and has helped Tech, one of college baseball’s elite teams, post a 39-16 record.
No one seems to knows for sure where Basil may wind up playing this week when Tech opens defense of its Atlantic Coast Conference championship in the annual tournament at Fort Mill, S.C. The only sure thing is he will be the lineup somewhere, swinging for the fences and shooting for the stars.
The Jackets, the No. 4 seed, face Duke, No. 5, in the first round of the double-elimination tournament Wednesday at 10 a.m. The tournament runs through Sunday.
Tech goes into the tournament coming off a disappointing three-game series with North Carolina at Chapel High in which the Tar Heels won two out of three.
Basil hopes to duplicate the brilliant 2000 ACC Tournament performance which earned him Most Valuable Player honors. In that showdown, also at Fort Mill, he went 13-for-19 (.684) with three home runs, six runs scored, 10 runs batted in and a tournament record 26 total bases to lead Tech to the title.
“I’d sure like to do that again,” Basil says. “But actually, I would settle just for another team championship. That is the goal of all of us.”
Basil, for one, firmly believes the Jackets can win the ACC and also do well in the forthcoming NCAA Tournament. “I think we have a chance to be a great tournament team again,” he said. “We lost some ACC games we should have won, but we know what we are capable of doing. I think our series with Florida State (regular season ACC champion), when we won two out of three, showed that we can be a force. It was the first time since I’ve been here that we have won a series from FSU.”
Basil says the broken ankle suffered by Teixeira early this season was a shocker. The 2000 National Player of the Year went to the sidelines in the seventh game of the season, and finally returned in the North Carolina series last weekend, as usual showing great power and consistency at the plate.
“When that initially happened to Mark, it was a big blow,” Basil says. “When you lose the best player in the country, it’s got to hurt. But I think the team showed a lot of character to win 39 games, playing without him for so long. We knew we still had the talent to get the job done.”
Basil was a natural to fill in at so many different positions. He has played them all before. “I actually started baseball as a third baseman when I was six or seven years old,” he said. “I was a catcher in high school and played most of my career at Tech in either left field or right field. Before this season, I had only played center field at mop-up time when a game was out of hand.”
Looking back at his Tech career, Basil believes he has made the most strides in the power-hitting department. “I only hit six home runs in my entire high school (St. Xavier) career,” he said. “It was a very deep park and it was like a wind-tunnel, blowing in our face all the time. My power numbers are really up here (he has 41 homers in his Tech career) and that’s where I have shown the most improvement. I attribute a lot of that to the strength and conditioning program.”
Basil originally came to Tech to escape the bad weather in Ohio. “We played a countless number of high school games in the snow,” he said. “I wanted to play in the South where you could go outdoors much earlier each season. I visited four schools – Tech, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Wichita State, all with established programs. Then I finally chose Tech over Mississippi State on the strength of academics here.”
He majors in management and needs 14 hours to graduate. Basil expects sign a pro contract at the end of this college season and play pro ball this summer. He then will return to school and finish his degree requirements in the fall.
Athletics always has played a major part in Basil’s life. He comes from a very athletic family. His father, Jay, competed in high school in basketball, baseball and track and was active in intra-murals at Ohio State. His mother, Linda Zimmer, is an excellent golfer and bowler.
Jason’s oldest brother, Casey, played baseball at Indiana University and his other brother, Adam, recently completed a baseball career at Eastern Kentucky.
Basil says the Georgia Tech experience has been most rewarding. “I evaluate my time here in terms of baseball,” he said. “Even when I take on an academic group project, I’m generally with a group of baseball teammates. I’ve seen members of the team come and go since I’ve been here and they all meant a lot to me.”
In fact, when he is interviewed by news reporters, Basil seems to spend as much time talking about his teammates as he does himself. In the interview for this story, he hailed freshman pitcher Kyle Bakker (4-1) as “an unbelievable addition,” and said junior infielder Victor Menocal has been “the big surprise of the season, a guy who gets better and better all the time.”
The only disagreement Basil has with his teammates comes when the conversation turns to major league baseball. “I grew up a big Reds fan and still am,” he said. “That causes a countless number of squabbles with guys on the team who pull for the Braves.”
Basil says the ACC Tournament will be hotly-contested, as usual. “I think the ACC compares favorably with the Southeastern Conference and the Pac 10,” he said. “The ACC has four very good teams – Georgia Tech, FSU, Clemson and Wake Forest.”
So where will Basil play in the ACC Tournament? He undoubtedly will start in right field, but there’s no telling what will happen after that. Will he wind up at catcher or in center field?
What the heck! Who’s on first?