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Jan. 7, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Fresh off a plane from a family vacation in Cancun that was a quintuple bonus of sorts, Matt Skole wasted little time getting to work Thursday. The Georgia Tech junior third baseman put up two of the finest freshman-sophomore seasons in school history, and yet he has more in mind.

One does not become one of the top power hitters in collegiate baseball by accident, so the first team All-ACC corner infielder worked out in anticipation of the real deal next week. For a few more days, he’ll be abundantly familiar with his workout partner – younger brother and former Tech commit Jake Skole.

Then, when Tech workouts begin in earnest, there will be a sort of, “Where’d everybody go?” vibe as Matt and his teammates welcome – again – 17 freshman to the team. Had his brother not signed with the Rangers last summer, he likely would have been one of them as a double duty football-baseball player.

“We crank up Monday at Tech, start working out, running, getting in shape. I think it will be two weeks of lifting hard ,” said Matt, who has focused on his footwork and fielding in the offseason. “We start on the field at the end of the month, or around Feb. 1. We want to see [the freshman] succeed, and we want to succeed.

“It’s a little easier to push them because they don’t know what to expect, and they want to exceed expectations.”

Even though Skole and second baseman Jacob Esch are the only two returning starters among eight everyday positions, there are already expectations for the Jackets based on the talent of coach Danny Hall’s recruiting class and the return of several pitchers.

Skole, left-handed pitcher Jed Bradley and right-hander Mark Pope made the Louisville Slugger preseason All-America team, and have plenty to do with Tech being ranked No. 19 in the preseason by the Collegiate Baseball newspaper.

As a freshman out of Roswell’s Blessed Trinity, Skole hit .302 with 17 home runs and 58 RBI while starting all 58 games. Last season, he started all 62 games and hit .335 with 63 RBI while becoming the 12th player in Tech history to hit at least 20 home runs in a season with exactly that many. In 120 games for Tech, all starts, he has 143 hits, 121 RBI, and 37 home runs.

Hall’s task of bringing all the Jackets together (actually, they worked out together extensively in the fall) is somewhat like the job of bringing the Skoles together.

Jake will leave the family’s Woodstock home soon to rejoin the Rangers’ organization, and between his schedule and Matt’s, there are not many chances for the family of five – including 11-year-old Mickey – to be in the same place at the same time.

“We were in Cancun for three or four days, a family vacation,” Matt said. “It was great. The weather was awesome. We got to do a lot of family stuff, and me and my brother don’t get to see each other a lot. We don’t get together all five of us very often even for family dinners. It was good. Mickey plays everything, baseball, basketball, football . . . but it’s hard for me to get to his games.”

The 6-foot-4, 216-pound Skole won’t get to see Jake much this spring, either, and last summer was the first time the two were apart for a protracted period.

After Jake was drafted 15th overall by the Rangers, the Skole household broke up a little more than when Matt transitioned earlier to Tech.

The decision to pass on a Tech football scholarship was made easier by a $1.557 million signing bonus for the outfielder. His first two minor league assignments were in Arizona and Spokane, Wash., which are not as easy to get to from Woodstock as is The Flats.

“Of course it was a difficult decision for Jake. He was an 18-year-old kid out of high school, but this is something that he’s wanted to do since he was young,” Matt said. “I think he made the right decision and hopefully I can be there with him soon.”

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