Oct. 6, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– On the one hand, it feels like Eric Patterson never left The Flats. He’s carrying 18 hours this semester, buries himself in books and code more than that, and he finds respite at Russ Chandler Stadium.
It’s definitely not all the same. Sure, he feels right at home volunteer coaching Georgia Tech baseball; that’s part’s cool.
Yet class is no easier now than when he earned All-ACC honors three times for the Yellow Jackets from 2002-04 as a lefty-hitting second basemen and base path blur.
So he’s looking forward to a break in next Friday’s induction into Tech’s Athletic Hall of Fame with Calvin Johnson, Jarrett Jack, Nicholas Thompson, Brendon Mahoney, Lynn Houston Moore, Michael Sorrow and Jamie Wong. When they’re honored at halftime of the Oct. 15 football game against Georgia Southern at Bobby Dodd Stadium, it’ll be like old times.
Patterson, Jack, Mahoney, Thompson and Wong were student-athletes together.
“Currently, I am stressed,” he said during a study break. “I am absolutely excited. The class being inducted is just tremendous. I know a few of them. Looking back at my time at Tech, we took a lot of pride.
“We had the basketball team making the national championship game [with Jack in `04], the football team making all those bowl games … We said, `Let’s make sure our baseball team is up in those conversations.’ “
While Mahoney was busy winning seven ACC indoor and outdoor track titles and Thompson helped guide the Jackets to the 2002 ACC golf title and NCAA runner-up status, Patterson, 33, did his part on the diamond.
The Rockies drafted him in the 23rd round 2001 after he excelled at Harrison High in Cobb County, but he chose to attend Tech instead. His older brother, Corey, had committed to the Jackets a few years earlier yet went pro upon being drafted by the Cubs.
In a hurry, Eric made an impact at second base for the Jackets.
He played in 67 games as a freshman, starting 65, and earned first-team All-ACC honors and first team Freshman All-America honors after batting .346 with 73 runs scored and 41 stolen bases.
With Patterson at the top of the lineup, Tech made its second trip to the College World Series that spring, won the ACC Tournament title in 2003 and the regular-season title in 2004.
In three seasons, he stole 124 bases to finish second in program history, and was eighth in runs scored (205) and triples (12). His career batting average was .316.
Drafted in the eighth round by the Cubs in 2004, Patterson went pro.
After spending parts of five seasons and 226 games in Major League Baseball with the Cubs, A’s, Red Sox and Padres, Patterson is a student again, and helping out his college head coach, Danny Hall.
He did not come to this decision quickly.
After last appearing in a MLB game in August, 2011, with the Padres, he bounced around through a few more organizations without getting a call up, and played some independent baseball.
Last fall, he activated a clause in his original contract with the Cubs that stipulates the club pay for his tuition and books with a reimbursement for board if he returned to college.
“With the way my career shook out the last few years I realized I wasn’t going to play baseball and make a lot of money,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in the game or go into the corporate world. I had to utilize the [Cubs] money within three semesters.
“Do I keep chasing the dream … play as long as I can, play independent ball and then have to come out of pocket and pay for school? Let me knock out school while it’s paid for. The game’s getting a lot younger. I’m not getting any younger. It just didn’t match up.”
All at once, he’s working on two possible career choices as a return to baseball is a possibility. It’s not as easy as swiping bases.
“The classroom structure is different for sure. We weren’t so tech savvy,” Patterson explained. “We didn’t have a lot of the resources. It’s definitely very challenging. You have to put in your work more times than not being the oldest guy in class.”
Patterson took 19 hours last spring and 11 over the summer.
He hopes to graduate with a degree in business administration, and a concentration in marketing.
His next stop remains to be seen.
“Could it be a front office position? It’s not 100 percent set in stone,” Patterson said. “I’m open to coaching collegiately. My thought process was let me take my three semesters back and get an idea of the path that I want to take.
“Now, I’ll have my degree and that’ll make it a lot easier to transition into the corporate world if I go that route.”
With the luxury of family counsel nearby, there’s no rush to make a career choice.
Corey Patterson retired after an 11-year career in the Majors, lives in Sandy Springs and coaches summer baseball. Parents Don Patterson, who played defensive back for Tech from 1976-78 before playing for the NFL’s Giants and Lions, and Carolyn, an ’81 Tech graduate, live nearby as well.
They’re not likely to tell Eric what to do, yet will pitch thoughts if asked.
“My family never influenced the decision [to attend Tech] one way or the other,” he said. “Through the whole process, I was looking at the academic reputation that Georgia Tech had and the tradition that Georgia Tech has, and you couldn’t have asked for a better situation.
“They just let me make the decision on my own. I could have gone to Stanford or Michigan. It was a perfect situation at Tech.”
Patterson’s lining up his next gig, whatever it may be.
Single, he lives about three miles from campus, near the new Ponce City Market, with Roman — an English Bulldog. Yes, a Bulldog.
“Being the Tech student that I am, I did my research, made sure they matched my lifestyle,” Patterson said with a laugh. “I think he’s adjusted to my schedule. He’s a very, very good dog. He’s very chill. I know he enjoys the interaction, but understands that I’m busy.”