By Jack Williams
Georgia Tech pitching star Rhett Parrott–a native Georgian–obviously was named for Rhett Butler. It turns out, that was a rebel-rousing choice. The guy’s got a 90 plus-mile-an-hour fastball that batters say definitely is gone with the wind.
By the way, Parrott’s slider isn’t bad either.
Put those pitches together, throw in a “new-found aggressiveness” and Parrott is having a season to remember, helping propel Tech back into the national spotlight and the fight for the NCAA crown.
After the Jackets disposed of arch-rival Georgia, 7-3, Tuesday night, they have a record of 35-10, are ranked fifth and eighth in major national polls and hold down first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference race with a 14-4 mark. Coach Danny Hall’s team has won 26 of its last 30 games.
Parrott, a sophomore righthander from Dalton, Ga., worked his best magic at Tallahassee last weekend in a series between Tech and FSU. The Seminoles won two of three games, but Parrott took care of the middle contest, pitching seven scoreless innings in a 5-0 Jacket victory. Freshman Jeff Watchko finished up. It marked the first time FSU has been shut out at home since College of Charleston won there in 1994 by a score of 3-0.
“It was a great feeling,” Parrott said. “That’s the best I’ve pitched at Georgia Tech. In fact, I think it was my best game ever. I didn’t know until the game was over that it had been so long since they were shut out at home.”
Parrott says in that particular game, he stuck almost exclusively with the two pitches-the fastball and the slider. “Coach Hall was calling every pitch,” he said. “I threw only one changeup and one curve all night. I was in a groove and coach just had me stick with what was working.”
Parrott and his teammates will try to keep the ball rolling this weekend when seventh-ranked Clemson invades Russ Chandler Stadium for a crucial three-game set. The Tigers are tied with FSU for second in the ACC with an 11-4 record and had an overall record identical to that of Tech at 35-10 heading into this week’s play.
Tech and Clemson open the weekend series Friday night at 7 p.m., then clash Saturday and Sunday afternoons in 1 p.m. contests. Going into the series, Parrott has a record of 6-2, an earned run average of 3.17 and 47 strikeouts in 54 innings on the mound. He has been so dominant lately that he has allowed only one earned run in his last 20 innings on the mound.
“I think the biggest change is that I am being more aggressive,” Parrott said. “Coach Trap (pitching coach Mike Trapasso) has worked hard with me on that. I was being a little too lackadaisical. Coach Trap told me just to lay it on the line and really go after the batters. It has worked.”
Parrott started the current season in the shadow of lefthander Cory Vance (8-2), the most heralded member of the Tech staff. The big question was would the other pitchers, particularly the young ones, move in and get the job done?
Parrott and sophomore Steve Kelly (6-2) certainly have answered the call, and Watchko and other relievers also have pitched well. Senior Ben Sheeter also has been quite effective. In fact, he was the one who lassoed Georgia Tuesday with a 10-strikeout performance.
“Steve Kelly and I are roommates,” Parrott said. “We’re very close. We share information about pitching, but we really talk about everything. Cory is special. He’s a great pitcher. He’s very competitive fellow who is having a great year.”
Parrott came from an athletic family and says his mother (Sherry) and his father (Bruce) have been the biggest influence in his baseball career. His father also was a baseball player of note. His mother obviously has had a strong influence in other ways, too. She’s the one who saw the movie, “Gone with The Wind,” and picked out the name Rhett for her son.
“She just liked that name,” Parrott said. “I get a lot of questions from people who are curious about it. I have seen the movie twice myself, so I’m very familiar with the story.”
Parrott says he first started played baseball in a T-Ball League when he was kid. “Most of the early years, I was a second baseman,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got into the Pony League at 13 or 14 that I became a pitcher.”
He says he owes a lot of his pitching success to former Tech pitching coach James Beavers who managed him when he played for the East Cobb Yankees in a summer league for high school players in Marietta.
“Coach Beavers made a big difference in my career,” Parrott said. “I learned so much from him.”
A highlight of Parrott’s high school career at Northwest Whitfield came when he beat the school’s arch-rival, Harrison of Marietta, 1-0, on a two-hitter and drove in the game’s only run.
When Parrott isn’t serving up pitches of his own, he often is in the stands at Turner Field to watch his favorite pro team, the Atlanta Braves. “I’m a big fan,” he said, “We don’t get much opportunity to go when the Tech season is in progress, but it’s good to know the Braves are there when our season ends.”
Parrott’s other big interest is music-of all kinds. He likes to sing along with the stars. Just ask his teammates.
On a recent team trip, the Tech players and coaches traveled in vans.
“Some of us were fooling around with two-way radios, talking back-and-forth from one van to another,” Parrott said. “When a country song came over the van radio, I sang along. The guys have kidded me some about that. But I really do enjoy country music. I guess George Strait is my favorite.”
Parrott’s vocal renditions, however, will have to wait. First things first. He’ll try to “entertain” his teammates in another way this weekend-with lots of fastballs and sliders against the Clemson Tigers.