AP Sports Writer
| Richard Lewis, left, greets teammate Mark Teixeira right at home plate after Teixeira hit a two-run home run.|
(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
ATLANTA (June 2, AP) – Mark Teixeira grew up near Baltimore, but he always cheered for the New York Yankees. One player in particular.
“I was a huge Don Mattingly fan,” he said. “That’s why I wear No. 23. I always liked the way he played. I liked his swing. He had that classic swing.”
Teixeira must have been taking notes. He’s now one of the most feared hitters in college baseball, leading top-ranked Georgia Tech (50-14) into the NCAA Super Regionals against Southern California (41-18).
The best-of-three series begins tonight at Russ Chandler Stadium on the Tech campus. The winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Teixeira, a sophomore third baseman, leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in hitting (.422), home runs (18), runs scored (104), slugging percentage (.776) and on-base percentage (.547). He is second with 80 RBIs, just behind teammate Jason Basil’s 83.
On Thursday, Teixeira was named national player of the year by The Sporting News. Before that, he already was being compared with a pair of former Georgia Tech stars: Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek.
“He’s in the same class,” coach Danny Hall said. “It’s up to him to prove in pro ball how good he’s going to be. But he’ll get the opportunity.”
In 1998, Teixeira (pronounced tuh-SHARE-uh) was drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox, giving him an opportunity to be a future teammate of Garciaparra and Varitek. But the youngster was disappointed to be picked in the ninth round after being told he would like likely go by the end of the first. So, he accepted a scholarship offer from Georgia tech.
“I learned a tough lesson about the business of baseball,” Teixeira said. “I found out it is a business, and sometimes it’s tough out there in the business world. I was only 18 years old and not ready for the real world.”
|“I learned a tough lesson about the business of baseball. I found out it is a business, and sometimes it’s tough out there in the business world.”|
He’ll be eligible again for the draft after his junior season, a certain first-round pick barring an unforseen setback. In fact, Teixeira could be the first name called – period.
“He might go from rookie of the year (in the ACC) to player of the year to the first pick as a junior,” Hall said. “He’s done everything we thought he might do, then exceeded our expectations.”
The switch-hitting Teixeira has been a force from the day he stepped on campus. He started all 58 games as a freshman, hitting .387 with 13 homers, 65 RBIs and a .640 slugging percentage. He’s started all 64 games this season and done even better.
“As a freshman, there weren’t a lot of expectations,” he said. “This year, I was expected to be one of the big guys. It’s kind of hard to live up to that sometimes, but I was lucky to get on a roll.”
This is more than just luck, of course. At 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, Teixeira is a naturally gifted hitter with no apparent weaknesses. He sprays the ball to all fields, rarely swings at a bad pitch and seems equally adept from either side of the plate.
“He hits for power from both sides. He hits for average from both sides,” Hall said. “It’s like having two guys in the same body.”
Teixeira also is driven by the rejection he felt two years ago when he slipped all the way to the ninth round. He’s been on a mission ever since to prove the scouts were wrong.
“Looking back, I’m glad I wasn’t a first-round pick,” he said. “It’s made things a lot easier. My goal right now is to be one of the top picks next year. I’m going to work even harder to make it happen.”