By Jack Williams
There is an old saying in baseball that you can’t steal first base. Don’t tell that to Georgia Tech leadoff batter Matthew Boggs. This guy might just try it.
And why not, for heaven’s sakes? He’s tried every other trick known to man to get on base. That is his passion, his way of life. And, we hasten to add, Boggs has done it with much success.
Danny Hall, head coach of the Georgia Tech team that is ranked No. 1 nationally in two major polls, talks of Boggs in glowing terms.
“He has an uncanny ability to get on base,” Hall says. “He’s very good at making pitchers go deep into the count. He’s one of those scrappy guys. If he’s on your team, you love him. If he’s on the opposing team, you don’t like him.”
Boggs, a redshirt junior from Dalton, Ga., who checks in at 5-10 and 165, admits he stands dangerously close to the plate when batting “because it drives pitchers crazy.”
Boggs adds, “People think I do that to get hit by a pitch. (He’s been hit a total of 33 times in his Tech career). The truth is I just feel more comfortable close to the plate.”
Let’s face it, this guy really feels comfortable when he’s on base. After undergoing right elbow surgery and missing last season, Boggs has returned to the lineup in left field with a bang. In the Jackets’ first six games, he’s been on base 14 times in 28 at bats. He’s had seven hits, five walks and has been hit by a pitch twice. His batting average is .350.
“My primary job as leadoff man is to get on base,” he says, “and I will do anything it takes to accomplish that. It’s also my job as leadoff batter to see as many pitches as possible so the other hitters on my team can size up the pitcher.”
Boggs worked some of his magic Wednesday when the Jackets came from behind in the last two innings to defeat arch-rival Georgia, 10-8, before a record crowd of 4,058 at Foley Field in Athens. His bases-loaded walk in the eighth forced in one run, and he was hit by a pitch in the ninth to help spur Tech’s winning four-run uprising.
The Jackets (5-1) now look ahead to the first home games of the young season this weekend. A North Carolina team, Elon, comes into Russ Chandler Stadium for three games Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday’s game starts at 3 p.m. while the two weekend contests begin at 1:30.
One recent example of Boggs’ tenacity at the plate came in a Tech victory at Georgia Southern last weekend. In a scoreless tie in the fourth inning, he was at the plate with two outs and one Tech runner on base. Boggs proceeded to make it a 10-pitch at bat and finally drew a base on balls. The Jackets went on to score four runs that inning and take command of the game.
Hall points out that Boggs can do more than just work his way to first base. “He also can come up with a big hit when you need that,” the coach says. “He can get a rally started or knock in a run or two. I’m just pleased that he is healthy again. Boggsy is a valuable part of our offense.”
After two brilliant seasons with the Tech team in 1998 and 1999, Boggs came down with a torn ligament in his right elbow in the off-season. “Actually the arm bothered me during the Tech season of 1999,” he said. “But I went to the Cape Cod League that summer with the Wareham team and that’s where it really happened. My first couple of games, I played second base. Then the coach moved me to the outfield for the next game. When I threw the ball back to the infield after a hit, I felt my elbow pop. I finished that game but underwent surgery soon after that.”
Playing second base early in his Tech career, Boggs became an instant star. In the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament in 1998, he hit .611 with two doubles, and two walks. He got on base 18 times in 24 at bats and made the all-tournament team.
That team could easily have gone on to the College World Series, but lost to Arizona State in the regional finals, 3-1. “We came from five runs behind to beat Oklahoma State and get into the final game,” Boggs recalls. “We had great momentum and were scheduled to play in the championship game that night. As fate would have it, there was a threat of a rain storm and a tornado. So the game was delayed until the next day even though it never rained a drop. I think we would have won if the game had gone on as scheduled.”
Boggs was honored prior to the start of this season when his teammates chose him and All-America Mark Teixeira to serve as co-captains. “That was very special,” Boggs said. With practically every player back from last year’s great team, Tech went into this season ranked No. 1 in the nation in all three major polls.
Overlooked sometimes is the fact that Boggs also is an excellent fielder. He can chase down hard-hit drives with the best of them from his left field position. “Although I really prefer to play in the infield,” he said, “right now I feel more comfortable on this team in the outfield.”
Boggs predicts another very tough Atlantic Coast Conference race. “There is no doubt in my mind that the ACC is as a tough as any league in the country,” he said. “We have three teams, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Clemson, consistently ranked in the Top 10. Wake Forest also is very good and so is North Carolina.”
Boggs was a baseball and football star in high school at Dalton High School. He was the lead-off batter in baseball only in his junior season, however. “I batted third as a senior,” he said. “I guess they needed me to drive in runs that year.”
He did that in fine fashion, setting a school record as a senior with a .587 batting average. He hit five home runs, stole 20 bases, scored 43 runs and had 45 runs batted in. He was an honorable mention All-America.
In football, Boggs played cornerback despite the fact he is small for that rugged sport. “We had other players who were smaller than I was,” he said.
Boggs says he misses football today, especially the atmosphere generated on Friday nights in high school. “That was a special time,” he said, “especially in a place like Dalton. Football is very big there.”
Boggs chose Georgia Tech for his college education even though both of his parents, Tommy and Jane, attended the University of Georgia. “They pull for me and Georgia Tech in baseball, of course, but it’s a different story in football,” Boggs said.
Matthew’s father was a high school athlete, playing football and running track. But he decided not to try out for either sport in college. Matthew’s mother was a high school cheerleader. His younger brother Mitchell, a high school junior, plays both baseball and football.
Tommy Boggs is a CPA and devotes most of his time to that profession. He has recently, however, also become involved in a new business, the production of carpets.
Matthew majors in Textile and Fiber Engineering at Georgia Tech, but doubts he will pursue a career in that field. “When I finally am finished with baseball, I probably will go back to school and get an MBA degree and work in the business field,” he said.
Meanwhile, Matthew enjoys a number of interesting hobbies besides baseball. “I like golf (he shoots in the mid-80s) and also enjoy drawing, mostly pencil drawings,” he said. “Usually, I draw portraits of people or just figures that I have observed.”
Boggs’ first priority these days, however, is drawing a blueprint for Georgia Tech’s baseball success.
“We have the potential to be as good as we want to be,” he said. “We have the talent to win it all. That will take everybody coming together, playing as a team. If we do that, we can have a really good year.”
And now, if you will excuse Matthew Boggs, he’s got to go think up some more ways to get on base.