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A Perfect Example

May 28, 2010

By Jon Cooper
ramblinwreck.com

They love Derek Dietrich in Parma, Ohio.

They love him in Atlanta.

They loved him in Houston (the Astros drafted him with their first pick on the third round of the 2007 June Draft) and they’d probably, grudgingly, admit that they love him in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Florida.

It’s not hard to love Derek Dietrich. All it takes is an opportunity to watch him play baseball or to be around him as he prepares to.

“He does everything in a professional manner,” said Georgia Tech assistant coach Bryan Prince. “If it’s academics, if it’s baseball, whatever it may be, he conducts himself very professionally. He’s prepared for practice, he’s prepared for games, he’s prepared for class. He just does things the right way.”

Doing things the right way has resulted in a three-year career on The Flats in which he’s never missed a game and has earned him three All-ACC nominations and back-to-back spots on ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-America Team as announced by CoSIDA.

“I just try to prepare myself the same way each and every day,” said Dietrich, who, including Thursday night’s ACC Tournament opener against Virginia Tech has started 176 consecutive games at shortstop. “Whether it’s getting the right meals and adequate sleep, our strength coach is great with getting us ready physically and our coaches, physically ready on the baseball field. You just come with the same kind of intensity and energy. Some days it’s tough to do but I know that playing in the big leagues is going to be 162 games. So I take that mindset and I know that’s what I want to do. So I just bring it each and every day. It’s fun going out there.”

Having fun is a difference pitcher Deck McGuire has noticed in Dietrich, circa 2010.

“The first couple of years here he was all business all the time but this year he’s having a lot of fun,” said McGuire. “He’s grown as a leader. He keeps us upbeat and just overall as a team we’ve come a lot closer.

“Baseball is a game of relaxation,” McGuire added. “The more relaxed you are the better you play and I think he does a good job of being at the forefront of that.”

As usual, Dietrich has been at the forefront of leading the Yellow Jackets and the example he sets has rubbed off on teammates.

“Just seeing the way he goes about his business has been huge,” said freshman outfielder Brandon Thomas, not coincidentally Dietrich’s roommate on the road and his protégé. “All the little things that maybe I didn’t know about or hadn’t really noticed, everything he does on the field and at the park is done the right way. I’ve never been around a guy that knows that much about the game and has been able to teach me everything that he’s taught me.”

“When you get guys out there with that kind of work ethic, you just see what they do and the success that they have from it and you try and emulate it,” added outfielder — and the football team’s starting A-Back — Roddy Jones. “Dietrich’s the first guy in the batting cage and the last one to leave. The success that he’s had, if that’s the hard work it takes, it kind of shows you what it takes. I know what it takes in baseball but just seeing it, it’s a lot more special and it hits a lot harder.”

Making an impact on Thomas and Jones, who were good enough to get drafted by Major League teams prior to having even met Dietrich, says a lot about the example Dietrich sets.

“He’s been a great player for us and to me he’s gotten better every year,” said Head Coach Danny Hall. “He’s had his best year this year.”

Hall’s not exaggerating. Dietrich headed into the ACC Championships leading the team in hits (80), was second on the team in hitting (.374), runs (63), on-base percentage (.479), and stolen bases (eight, matching his total over his first two seasons), and was third in home runs (16, including an ACC-leading 13 in conference play), and slugging percentage (.696). He set career highs in each of those categories.

The one area he did not have a career-high was in strikeouts. His 27 were a career-low, the fewest of anyone in the starting lineup and showed a dramatic turnaround, as in 2009, he whiffed 48 times, second-most on the team.

“I think it’s just maturing as a player,” he said. “Maturing at the plate, maybe being more aggressive, and seeing the ball better, getting a good pitch to hit and getting your pitch rather than the pitcher’s pitch. Our strikeout numbers are down considerably and we’re still hitting home runs like we usually do. So no one’s complaining, I’m sure.”

“As a team, our goal was to have quality at-bats, cut down on strikeouts, put the ball in play and he’s really bought into that,” said Prince. “He’s patient at the plate, he’s getting good pitches to hit but when he does get to two strikes he doesn’t panic. He still works the count and tries to put the ball in play.”

Prince points to one at-bat, in the ninth-inning on March 28th in Chapel Hill, when Dietrich hit a dramatic, game-tying two-run homer in the finale of the North Carolina series, as a turning point. The hit happened to be his career-best fifth hit of the day.

“That one at-bat was big for him, it was big for the team,” he said. “Where he hits in the lineup (primarily second, and, counting Thursday night, Tech is 37-11 in those games), with the guys that around him, he makes our team better and when he goes, so do our guys behind him.”

Dietrich has showed that he doesn’t need to get a hit to get things going. He’ll get hit as well. He was hit by a school-record 19 pitches during the 2010 regular season and been plunked 41 times in his career.

“The guys always kid me I have to get out of the way of some of those, but I like to stay in there and get on base because I know we’ve got some guys behind me that can drive me in,” he said. “Some guys don’t like getting hit by pitches, but for me, I kind of just wear it and get down to first and hopefully score a run. So for me, it’s not too big of a deal. As long as I don’t get one in the head or something.”

While Dietrich will likely have his name called by a Major League team come the June Draft, which this year takes place June 7th through the 9th in Secaucus, N.J., he has expressed the desire to play in only one city.

“I want to go to Omaha and have a chance to compete for a National Title,” he said. “It’s been my main goal since I’ve been here at Tech and the whole team’s goal. It would be awesome to go to Rosenblatt [Stadium]. I think it’s the last year so that’s going to be a special moment for any team that gets to go. We want to be one of those eight teams. We want to make it there for our fans and for Georgia Tech and for all the guys on the team.”

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