March 21, 2011
By Jon Cooper
It’s a funny thing about dreams. They can change so quickly. Especially when you’re 18.
It was only last summer when 18-year-old Matt Grimes’ dream might have been to pitch in a Major League ballpark. When Grimes was selected by the Chicago White Sox on the fourth round of the 2010 June Draft, he even could have pictured which one — U.S. Cellular Field. When he would get to do it was kind of up in the air, though.
It’s nine months later and now, as a freshman at Georgia Tech and the baseball team’s midweek starter, the former Mill Creek High School star has got a different dream he’ll get to realize and not only does he knows exactly which ball park he’ll get to fulfill the dream, but he even knows approximately when he’ll be able to do it.
The dream is to pitch against the University of Georgia. The ballpark is Foley Field and the time is in the 7:00 hour tonight — first pitch is at 7:00 p.m. (The game will be telecast on CSS and can be heard on WREK, 91.1 F.M. Live stats can be found on RamblinWreck.com).
“It’s like a dream come true. I’ve wanted to for years,” said Grimes, who was ranked as the 20th prospect in Georgia and in the top 250 in the nation. “I always thought how cool it would be to pitch against them. I’m honored to get the chance to do that.”
The honor is one he’s earned by pitching very well in his four freshman starts and one relief appearance. The wiry Grimes (he’s listed at 6-6, 183) is 3-1 with 4.84 ERA (12 earned runs — 14 overall — in 22 1/3 innings), having allowed 24 hits, and eight walks, while striking out 23.
“I think he’s got clean mechanics, he’s blessed with a good arm, he has command three pitches,” said Georgia Tech Pitching Coach Tom Kinkelaar. “I had kind of the same frame that he did when I was in high school and we had other guys come through Tech, David Duncan being one, a left-hander, he was like 6-8, a real skinny kid. They’ve got good arm whip and their mechanics are very clean.”
A goal for Kinkelaar is to get Grimes to rely on more than just a good fastball.
“I think the biggest adjustment for him is knowing that, we base everything off the fastball but you can’t just get away with just throwing fastballs,” he said. “He’s got to be able to pitch, by throwing his breaking pitch and his change-up. Just getting him to understand at this level there’s more pitching involved than just throwing.”
Grimes, who also has been working on a slider, had concerned himself with throwing strikes, something he’s done on almost 65 percent of his pitches (242 strikes in 373 pitches), while not concerning himself with opposing batters putting the ball in play. Ideally, he’d rather they do that.
“You’re much more efficient as a pitcher when you’re getting first-pitch outs and stuff like that,” said Grimes. “Look at guys like Mark Pope. That’s why he does so well. He doesn’t throw many pitches and he goes a lot of innings just by getting outs, letting the defense do its job.”
Another area he’d like to be like Pope is success against Georgia. Pope pitched all three games against UGA last season as Tech swept the Bulldogs, and the game in Athens ended in a 25-6 rout, Tech’s largest victory margin in the series (Here’s the boxscore from that game http://ramblinwreck.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/stats/2009-2010/gt041410.html).
Grimes has talked with Pope about pitching in the rivalry and in hostile territory.
“He said it’s a fun game to pitch in,” said the freshman. “He didn’t say any more than that, being Pope. He just had a big smile on his face. But he said it’s a lot of fun, great atmosphere. Just do my thing.”
Pope has been more forthcoming about other aspects of pitching on the college level.
“Just how to compose yourself on the mound,” said Grimes. “I’ve talked to some of the upperclassmen like Jed [Bradley] and Mark about being the mid-week starter and how they took it and what kind of approach they had. They’ve showed me the ropes.”
Kinkelaar likes the open line of communication between the veterans and the youngster.
“I encourage that. You’ve got to help each other out,” said Kinkelaar. “You might be saying the same things, but when it comes from a teammate they ight say it a little differently than I do and it clicks with them.”
No one had to tell Grimes about continuing the Yellow Jackets’ recent run of success in the rivalry, where Tech has won four of the last five and has a 35-27 record in the Danny Hall era. Today’s game will be the 351st in the series, which began in 1898.
“I feel like I need to keep the tradition going of beating Georgia,” he said. “I’m just hoping to go out there and do my thing and throw strikes, do what I can do to help the team win. And then, we’ll hit and hopefully score some runs.”
Kinkelaar hopes that Grimes continues the Tech tradition of the successful transition from midweek tow weekend starter — although he’d prefer to drop the qualifiers.
“Deck McGuire, when he was a freshman, he was our midweek starter. He was like 8-0 or 9-0, including pitching against Georgia and Jed Bradley did it as a freshman,” he said. “I like to try to build a staff to say we have a staff of four or five starters. When they pitch is when they pitch.”
He sees big things ahead for Grimes.
“I think it’s a great spring board and great experience for these young guys to be able to pitch against great competition and in a good atmosphere that is hopefully breeding them to be weekend guys down the road.”
For now, Foley Field and Georgia is just another start against just another team.
“You just try to keep it on an even keel, it’s going to the mound again, like you’ve done all this time,” said Kinkelaar. “There is going to be probably more hype, there are going to be more fans and more fans against him yelling and stuff like that. He’s been in big game sin his career. So hopefully he’s accustomed to that. We just say, ‘This is your real estate on the mound. You just go out and do your job on the mound. It doesn’t matter where we are or what mound it is.'”