June 2, 2017
This story originally appeared in the Spring, 2017 issue of Buzz magazine. Read the entire issue online or subscribe to the magazine here.
By Adam Van Brimmer
Brad Rigby married a Bulldog and thereby lives in a house divided, but his enduring fondness for Georgia Tech baseball dominates the domicile’s décor.
In one room, there’s a photo of Rigby and his Yellow Jacket teammates celebrating the 1994 College World Series game win against Florida State. In another, there’s the lanky righthander delivering one of his nasty sliders. Memorabilia and mementos are strategically placed elsewhere around the house as well.
“It was really cool to see that stuff every day once I was old enough to understand it,” says Rigby’s son, Paxton. “He had a pretty special time at Georgia Tech.”
Rigby is one of the most special players in Yellow Jacket history, the pitching ace of a team that advanced to the College World Series championship game. Georgia Tech lost that game, to Oklahoma, but only after Rigby pitched 17 innings in two other College World Series games to help the Yellow Jackets advance.
Coach Danny Hall, whose tenure dates to that 1994 season, calls Rigby “maybe the best pitcher we’ve had since I’ve been at Georgia Tech.” And Rigby is one of three Yellow Jacket pitchers named to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 50 Greatest Players list, along with Kevin Brown and Jim Poole.
Yet to many Georgia Tech fans who aren’t intimately familiar with that 1994 team, Rigby is “that other guy” from a quartet that went on to play Major League Baseball. Rigby’s battery mate, Jason Varitek, and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra went on to all-star careers in the big leagues, and outfielder Jay Payton enjoyed a 12-year career in the Majors.
The arrival of Rigby’s son, Paxton, at Georgia Tech this year has renewed interest in the elder Rigby and the legacy of the 1994 team. Paxton is a freshman walk-on infielder, and as such feels “zero pressure” in becoming the second Rigby to wear a Yellow Jacket uniform.
“The only pressure I feel is in the classroom,” he says. “It’s actually fun for me to talk about my dad and what he did here on the field.”
AN ACE ON THE MOUND
College baseball has been a hitter’s game since the introduction of the aluminum bat, yet every season a small group of pitching aces emerges.
Between 1992 and 1994, Brad Rigby was the game’s ace.
Rigby posted a 35-8 record and a 3.02 ERA while pitching just shy of 340 innings. He struck out 397 batters. And in the 1994 postseason, he tossed two complete games and threw eight innings in the win that sent Georgia Tech to the championship.
He was a first-team All-American and made the College World Series all-tournament team in 1994 and a second-team All-American in 1993.
“From the first time I saw him, I knew he was really good,” Hall says. “He had a good fastball and an outstanding breaking ball that he could command at any time. More than anything, though, when he had the ball in his hand, the team had all the confidence in the world that we would win. And he wanted it in his hand as often and as long as I’d let him.”
Rigby admits he was a pitcher with a position player’s mentality when it came to playing. He expected to go nine innings whenever he took the mound and often would pitch a Friday night conference series opener, work the midweek game the following week and come back to pitch in the Sunday finale. Nowadays, a top starter rarely pitches in a midweek game and throwing three times in 10 days is unheard of.
Rigby’s talent and work ethic led to him being a second round selection in the 1994 Major League Baseball Draft. After three years honing his craft in the minors, he joined the Oakland Athletics’ rotation for the 1997 season.
He had a respectable rookie season with a 4.87 ERA, but a weakness became evident early: he struggled against left-handed hitters. His slider and curveball weren’t effective breaking in toward lefthanders and his change-up was, as he describes it, “average at best.”
“My last several starts, you’d look at the opponent’s batting order and there would be seven or eight lefties,” he says. “They killed me.”
The solution was a move to the bullpen. He returned to the majors in 1999 as a reliever and pitched parts of the next two seasons for the Royals and the Expos, a franchise now known as the Washington Nationals.
Rigby’s baseball career took a new turn the following spring. He failed to make a roster and took a spot pitching for an independent league team. A handful of pitches into his first appearance, he felt something give in his pitching elbow.
The torn ligament ended his tenure with the independent league team, and he decided to use the rest and recovery time to finish his management degree at Georgia Tech. He completed his studies, then went to Venezuela to pitch in a winter league and test his arm.
The elbow didn’t hold up, and he returned to the United States to undergo Tommy John surgery. He also put his degree to work for the first time, taking a job as a copy machine salesman. He spent his days rehabbing his elbow and making sales calls.
“I wanted one more shot at baseball, but the next spring nobody wanted to take a chance on me just 10 months off surgery,” he says. “It was time to move on with life, and Georgia Tech put me in a great position to do that.”
POSITIONED FOR OFF-FIELD SUCCESS
The diligence, perseverance and work ethic Rigby mastered studying and playing at Georgia Tech made him a natural in the sales field.
His trial by copier–“where you hear the word no, all day, every day”–lasted two years before he moved on to medical device sales. He sold diagnostic equipment first, then got into selling surgical products. His current employer, C.R. Bard, makes products in the medical fields of vascular, urology and oncology, such as arterial stents, which hold arteries open to improve the flow of blood to the heart.
Rigby is a district manager based in central Florida and travels throughout the Southeast. He spends many days in the operating room with doctors and patients in need of his products.
“It’s been a rewarding second career for me,” he says. “Like baseball, it’s all about how you persevere and overcome the obstacles thrown you way. If you aren’t cutting it, you aren’t lasting.”
He’s also laying the groundwork for his third career: coaching. He’s worked as the volunteer pitching coach at his alma mater, Lake Brantley High School, for much of the last decade. The team won a state title in 2014, giving Rigby high school championships as both a player and a coach. He was a pitcher on the 1990 state title team.
“He’s awesome around the field–he’s always positive and upbeat,” Paxton Rigby says. “When the day comes that he can just coach baseball, he’s going to be great at that, too.”
And he’ll add some more photos and memorabilia to the house in the process.