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Bright Future

June 6, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn

Sting Daily

I’m going to do a favor for a certain subset out there, a group of Georgia Tech fans whose rancor and bleating has been resonant since the Yellow Jackets were eliminated Sunday night in an NCAA baseball regional by Mississippi State.

The bile is not deep on message boards, be they Scout.com, AJC.com or others. It’s right on top to be seen even with one eye open; there are plenty of people carping via the written word (their own) about Tech “falling short” yet again.

For the fourth year in a row, coach Danny Hall’s team did not advance past the regional round, and for the third year in a row the Jackets were eliminated even though they were playing host to said regional.

So here’s the favor: I’m going to take your questions of Mr. Hall. Send `em.

I’ve detected one already from various postings, and I have a few myself. Please, though, send me more.

The one I’m locked onto via cyber-world is: Given recent postseason results (Tech has also failed to advance past the first round of the revised ACC Tournament for three straight seasons), how does Hall view his work, and has he changed or is he considering anything in his basic modus operandi as a result of personal vetting? Much of the rest is up to you.

I’ll include your names with your questions, and e-mail you first before asking your query, one per capita.

The most interesting thing about most of what I’ve seen is that these would-be interrogators are thinking the way I did professionally when I was still a newspaper man – for 20-plus years, by the way.

Yet when I asked those questions and wrote the answers, I was assailed, and so was my former employer: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It’s easy to throw darts when there are no repercussions to be suffered.

I did that for years and years while covering the Atlanta Falcons, and later with Georgia Tech. Also, in 1996 I was the Georgia beat writer in the first seasons of Jim Donnan and Tubby Smith. Every time, I showed up the next day to face the person(s) I’d questioned and written about.

Back then, I did what I did both out of curiosity – heightened by a professional sense of obligation to ask what I thought hard-core fans would want to have answered – and in some instances to apply heat.

That was part of my job. Few newspaper readers know it, but one of the basic tenets of journalism, traced to Finley Peter Dunne, was/is (debatable these days) to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.

Now, I’ll say this up front: I’m a Danny Hall fan.

For the fuss about his decisions regarding starting pitchers (“He should have started somebody else in Game 3 against Austin Peay to save Buck Farmer for Game 4 against MSU because if Tech couldn’t beat AP even with a less experienced pitcher, then they didn’t deserve to win.”), some are clueless.

You have to win the next game, period. That’s priority one. Tech couldn’t beat AP Friday with their first team All-ACC pitcher (Mark Pope), nor even when he was injured early and replacement Matt Grimes pitched brilliantly.

Tech lost that game because the Jackets scored just one run.

The Jackets didn’t lose to MSU Sunday because freshman DeAndre Smelter made his first career start. He wasn’t spectacular, but that game came down to this: SIX UNEARNED RUNS!

Whether Smelter, Farmer or Sandy Koufax started, you give up six freebies, and you’re almost never going to win.

It is to me tiresome to see Hall blamed so universally, to use a word I loathe. I favor the words accountable and accountability.

On message boards, it is popular to cut slack to student-athletes, a noble motion that I get on some levels.

But Danny Hall did not put his players in position to fail Sunday night. The Jackets committed five errors on their own, and the reality is that his roster afforded no other players who in any of those situations would likely have been expected to make the plays that those in the field did not. Players need be held accountable!

I get the postseason track record, and the frustration that comes with it. I do. Same thing with Tech’s golf team over the weekend, and to a much, much, much lesser degree, the softball team a couple weeks ago.

The upside of all this is that these frustrated comments are borne of expectation. Enough good things happen over regular seasons that a sizable percentage of the Tech fan base goes into these postseason situations believing victory is a right. But some people need to stop and think a bit.

Tech had an ERA of 1.5 in that regional, allowing six earned runs in 36 innings. The Jackets won two and lost two. One they lost because they scored just one run, the other because they gave away six.

You can pick at Danny Hall on finer points, like the decision to try and bunt so many times Friday (and usually fail). But to question his call on starting pitchers when the defense flopped Sunday, or to connect the dots and suggest that this is what happens every year is in my view nothing but frustration without a filter between brain and mouth (or typing digits).

Expectations drive all of this.

Fans see Tech’s ranking (a silly process, really), see regular season success — by the way, if you paid attention to Tech in the second half of the season, you saw opponents began to build quite the scouting book on all Tech’s young players, and Pope’s arm/back/shoulder wore out as well — and assume it will be perpetual. It’s not. Nothing is. There is no perfect answer or plan.

But I sense that some of you have perfect questions.

Remember this when you ask: With 17 freshman (five of whom started Sunday, including designated hitter Daniel Palka), Tech was the youngest Division I team in the nation. The second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-youngest squads all finished last or next-to-last in their conferences or divisions and NONE qualified even for their conference tournaments if they had them.

Tech tied the No. 1 team in the nation, Virginia, for the ACC regular season crown at 22-8. Maybe that’s why so many people are out of sorts now; they figured that was a guarantee of future results.

Send questions to stingdaily@gmail.com, and when I get back to town this week I’ll set up an interview with Hall and ask the best. Then, we’ll print them. Remember, your name has to be included.

Questions to: stingdaily@gmail.com.

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