Oct. 4, 2001
By Jack Williams – Georgia Tech’s new athletic fund-raiser Jim Poole, a long-time Major League baseball pitcher, may have to come up with a few Tomahawk Chops all his own if the Atlanta Braves make the playoffs.
“I’ll be the Braves’ biggest fan, pulling for them to win a second World Series,” Poole says. “That’s the only way I figure I can get out of their highlight film.”
The Braves have had Poole on the big screen – very prominently, indeed – since 1995 when pitching for the Cleveland Indians, he delivered the home run ball to David Justice that gave the Braves a 1-0 win in the sixth game of the World Series.
“Even though I had that misfortune, getting an opportunity to pitch in the playoffs and the World Series for the Indians was a highlight of my 11 years as a relief pitcher in the majors,” Poole said. “It really was a dream come true.”
Poole is delivering pitches of a different kind these days. Since retiring from baseball at the end of the 2000 season, he has returned to the campus where he made his mark as a Georgia Tech pitcher and star student in electrical engineering to work in fund-raising for the Alexander-Tharpe Fund.
His assignment is two-fold – to strengthen relations with pro athletes who attended Georgia Tech, and to help devise a system to get all Georgia Tech athletes more involved in the Alexander-Tharpe operation.
“I appreciate Dave Braine (director of athletics) and Jack Thompson (senior associate athletic director for development) giving me this opportunity,” Poole said. “It has been one of my goals to give back to the Institute some of the benefits I gained here.”
In his assignment at Tech, Poole will draw on his 11 years of major league experience and the many friendships he has made along the way. He played for the following teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1990), Texas Rangers (1991), Baltimore Orioles (1991-1994), Cleveland Indians (1995), San Francisco Giants (1996-1998), Cleveland Indians (1998-1999), Philadelphia Phillies (1999), Detroit Tigers (2000), Montreal Expos (2000).
Poole took timeout this week to talk about one particular old friend and former teammate who does not have Georgia Tech ties – the headliner Barry Bonds, who has emerged as the top hero of 2001 in his drive to break the 70-home run record.
Poole paints a different picture of Bonds than many others who rap the attitude of the Giants’ slugger.
“First of all, Barry is the best player I’ve ever been with on a team,” Poole says. “I think people misinterpret him. I remember a conversation Barry and I had in 1995 when we were shagging balls in the outfield during Giants’ spring training at Scottsdale, Arizona. The conversation got around to what it takes to be a super star. Barry said he thinks in order to do that, a player must break away from the pack. It was his opinion that, in order to be a super star, a player must kind of stand alone and not pay attention to what people say about him. I think it is because of his thinking in that way that people have made the wrong judgement of him.”
In an interview this week, Poole also praised big league home run hitters in general. “In my opinion, weight-training is the reason we are seeing so many home runs in major league baseball,” he said. “It used to be that a team might have one player who could hit home runs to the opposite field. Now there are four or five on every team who can do it. It’s all got to do with weight room training. The hitters deserve the credit. They are working hard to make themselves stronger.”
Who are the best hitters Poole faced in his time in the majors? Whoever you guessed, that’s wrong. Try again.
“I went up against many of the best hitters, guys like Wade Boggs, for example,” Poole said. “But the ones who gave me the most problems were Ozzie Guillen and Lance Johnson. Johnson was eight-for-15 against me. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how I got him out seven times.”
Poole clearly remembers the first time he ever pitched in the Major Leagues. “It all started with the Dodgers in 1990 when I struck out Tony Gwynn in a game in Los Angeles,” he said.
Poole remembers the exact date – June 15, 1990.
Was he nervous?
“No, just excited,” he said.
Poole recalls one game in particular when he was nervous, a game against Mississippi State when he was a freshman at Georgia Tech.
“It was a game that changed my course in baseball,” he said. “What happened that day was bad, but it actually turned everything around for me. Tech had qualified for the NCAA Regionals and we had a three-game series with Mississippi State as kind of a warm-up. Coach (Jim) Morris decided to use me to determine if I was ready to help the team in the regionals.
“I went out there scared to death and fell to pieces against a team that had four future major leaguers (Will Clark, Bobby Thigpen, Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Brantley), he said. “I walked two batters and never got anyone out. Needless to say, I didn’t make the squad for the regionals.
“After that game, I made a vow, that win or lose, from then on, I would give the best I had. I made up my mind to relish a situation such as that rather than let the pressure overcome me. Actually, I used that game as motivation throughout my career at Tech and in the majors.”
Poole went on to become a standout reliever for the Jackets. He still ranks first in the Tech record book with 22 career saves, including 10 as a junior and nine as a senior. He played on four straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship teams from 1985 through 1988 and was all-ACC his last two seasons.
One of Poole’s Tech teammates was Kevin Brown, who has gone on to Major League fame as one of the best pitchers in the game. “It’s incredible what Kevin has done,” he said. “I never dreamed he would be as great as he has turned out to be. It’s a tribute to his dedication and hard work.”
Poole draws on his years of baseball experience when he talks about the upcoming big league playoffs.
“The Yanks are the team to beat until someone proves they can dethrone the champion,” he said. “Actually, I like the Oakland A’s, even better than the Seattle Mariners. The A’s started the season poorly, but have come back strong and might wind up with 100 wins. Oakland has a strong pitching rotation and a solid lineup. In the National League, the Cards are the hottest team. It’s interesting that they have performed so well without much help from Mark McGwire.”
Poole seems to be adjusting well to his first year out of baseball. “It’s not as strange or difficult as you might think,” he said. “Actually, I’m looking forward to the new challenges in my life.”
Jack Thompson, head of the Alexander-Tharpe Fund, is delighted to have Poole back on his side. “I’ve always been extremely proud of Jim, not only because of his athletic achievements, but also because of the fact that he was an outstanding student at Tech,” Thompson said. “He always has expressed an interest in giving back to Georgia Tech. We’re happy to have him with us.”
Poole and his wife Kim, whom he met his first year at Tech, have two other baseball players in the family– sons Austin, 9, and Hayden, 6. Rounding out the family is daughter, Courtney, 4.
Poole’s hobbies have ranged from a collection of comic books, to computers and to the recreational sports, golf and tennis.
His No. 1 hobby, however, has remained the same. It’s baseball, first, last and always. You can bet he and his family will be in the stands when Georgia Tech plays baseball again in the spring.
In the meantime, the Pooles are regulars at games of the Braves where Jim is out there with all the other Joe Fans in the stands, getting a first-hand look at the old Tomahawk Chop.