Aug. 4, 2008
Following is the second in a series of profiles on the members of the 2008 class of the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. Jack Wilkinson will catch up with each of the six members in the weeks leading up to the Annual Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, which will be Sept. 19 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased by calling 404-894-6124.
By Jack Wilkinson –
As hit men go, he had neither the cache nor the long-range resume of Nomar or Tex, Payton or Tek. No matter. While on the Flats, Mark Fischer wielded as big a stick as almost anyone. Especially in that sun-kissed season of ’96.
“You look at his numbers,” said Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall, “and start comparing him to the household names: the Garciaparras, Paytons, Teixeiras and Variteks. And you’re going to see a lot of Fischer in there, too.”
Which is why Hall says, “He definitely deserves it.” It being Fischer’s selection to the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. Which is why Hall will be at the induction dinner on Sept. 19, when the coach will present his former player for entry into the hall.
If it isn’t Cooperstown, it’s perhaps more meaningful to Fischer, the local kid who grew up in Marietta and tore up Atlantic Coast Conference pitching for three superb seasons. The 1997 first-round supplemental draft pick who pursued his dream in the Red Sox organization and, when that didn’t reach full flower, returned home to Tech and Marietta. The man who got his degree, got a good job, got married, got on with his life and now gets to join five other enshrinees in Tech’s Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s an incredible honor,” Fischer said. “It definitely caught me by surprise because it is such a great honor. Not many people have been selected for the Hall of Fame at Georgia Tech. Some of the names I’m up there with are pretty incredible. I’m honored.
“My time at Georgia Tech is probably the best time I’ve had in sports.” In his three seasons, Fischer hit .366, 11th on Tech’s career batting list. A 6-foot-2, 200-pound outfielder, he started 57 of 60 games as a freshman and hit .339 with 56 RBIs and seven triples.
“Mark was a good, good clutch hitter,” said Hall, who took the Tech job a year before Fischer arrived. “He and J.J. Thomas, they were a 1-2 punch and both of `em could hit home runs like no tomorrow.”
Thomas, like Fischer, also grew up in Cobb County. Fischer starred at Walton High, Thomas at Wheeler. Both were products of the heralded East Cobb youth baseball program; indeed, they helped lead the East Cobb Yankees to the 1994 Babe Ruth national championship.
“We literally just happened to grow up with the best amateur baseball program in the country,” Fischer said. “Playing in East Cobb really helped me get ready for the next level. That, and my family support.”
Especially his father, Vic, who not only never missed a Tech game but attended virtually every practice at Russ Chandler Stadium. In the summer of 1996, when Mark played in the Cape Cod Summer League for collegians, Vic, a stockbroker, spent the summer up in Falmouth, Mass., watching his son play ball while continuing his career via computer and over the phone.
“My Dad was extremely supportive,” said Fischer. “Because he was always there, I think sometimes people got the wrong impression, like he put more pressure on me. That was never the case. He gave me all the resources, and always supported me. The only pressure I ever got, I put on myself.”
The pressure Fischer put on opposition pitchers in 1996 was incessant. The sophomore led the ACC in batting with a .400 average and in hits with 104. He became the fifth Yellow Jacket to lead the conference in batting, the seventh to amass 100 hits in a season, and was the Institute’s 19th .400 hitter. While slugging 14 homers and 23 doubles and driving in 66 runs, Fischer hit .436 in conference games, also tops in the ACC.
“I caught a lot of breaks; seemed like anything I hit found a hole,” poor-mouthed Fischer, who described himself as a gap-to-gap hitter. “I remember playing at NC State, I hit four bloopers and got four hits. Four Texas Leaguers.”
“He could always hit. Always,” Hall said. “You could tell he was going to be a hitter. He was a power hitter, definitely a home run-doubles-RBI guy. One thing he got better at was hitting the ball the opposite way.”
That, in part, was due to the time Hall spent working with him, along with assistant coaches Jeff Guy and Mike Trapasso. “He’s a hard worker himself,” Fischer said of Hall. “He expected a lot out of you, but he’d throw batting practice to you all day if you asked.
“The whole experience for an athlete at Tech is just a great college existence,” Fischer said. “They treat you like professionals. The athletic association is incredible. The resources they have, the counseling, to make sure you’re on the right track, the resources, the strength and conditioning program, everything you needed, is incredible.
“I grew up a Georgia Bulldog fan,” Fischer said, chuckling. “Until high school, when Tech was THE program in the country. They recruited me hard, but it was a no-brainer: downtown Atlanta. Baseball scouts could come in any time and watch you play.”
Scouts watched Fischer play often, and returned often, especially during his sensational sophomore season, when he was a first-team All-ACC pick, and again his junior year.
“I fed off Michael Sorrow,” said Fischer, who hit between Sorrow and Thomas. “I was getting a lot of good pitches,” he said, laughing, “and I took advantage of it. Unfortunately, we ran into LSU at the end of that year.”
Eliminated by Todd Helton and Tennessee in ’95, Fischer and Tech were ousted in ’96 by LSU’s eventual national champs. In 1997, the Jackets’ nemesis was Mississippi State, which deprived Tech of a return to the College World Series.
That season, Fischer had career highs of 24 homers and 98 RBIs. He still ranks fifth, career-wise, in both categories at Tech, with 42 home runs and 220 RBIs. In ’97, Fischer was a first-team All-American selection by The Sporting News.
He spent six seasons in the Red Sox organization, starting in rookie ball, then spending his last three seasons in Double-A in Trenton, N.J. “It was good,” Fischer said of his minor-league career. “I got to go to a lot of small towns I’d never seen before. I had to play winter ball in Hawaii. That was good.
“Once you get to Double-A, you have to stand out, and really do something, and be consistent, to be called up,” said Fischer, who was released in the summer of 2002. “But it was great fun. I was in the weddings of a couple of guys I played with in Double-A. I met some good people along the way. I’m thankful I got the opportunity.”
Fischer returned home, resumed classes at Tech and graduated with a management degree in May of ’03. “Once you get out of school, it’s for real, man. No more games,” he said. “That degree, and playing ball at Tech, the stuff they teach you there, it really does prepare you for the real world.”
Now 32, Fischer has worked for five years in sales for Zimmer, a company that makes orthopaedic implants and fracture management products. “We sell total joint replacements to orthopedic surgeons, and sell trauma products,” said Fischer, who’s also been married nearly five years to his wife, Allison.
“It’s a sales-oriented job but a kind of cool job, too, because we’re selling something that improves peoples’ lives,” he said. “And it’s always innovating. They’re always coming out with new techniques.”