Jan. 17, 2011
By Jon Cooper
If Jacob Esch were a Final Jeopardy category there definitely would be more than one correct response.
The Georgia Tech Baseball Team has already found at least two.
As a freshman in 2009, the St. Paul, Minn., native was solid coming out of the bullpen, striking out 19 over 18 2/3 innings in 14 appearances.
Last year, during his sophomore season, he moved to second base, where he hit .284 with a .355 slugging average, but was most valuable in the field, wielding a .974 glove and making only seven errors in 266 chances. He came on strong at the plate in the NCAA Tournament, earning a spot on the All-Regional Team after hitting .533 (8-for-15) with a home run and six RBIs.
So, which is it — pitcher or infielder?
As Esch prepares for his junior season, his response is “What is all of the above?” It’s not exactly an original answer.
“I’ve always prepared myself for both every season since I’ve been four or five years old,” he said. “I’ve always prepared myself to throw it, prepared myself to field it and prepared myself to hit it.”
Being prepared physically and mentally for both positions gives him the confidence to take on either, an option he’s happy to provide for Head Coach Danny Hall.
“I don’t know what kind of confidence [Coach Hall] has in me at ANY position,” said Esch, with a laugh. “I’ll step into whatever role he needs me to.
“I don’t know where I’m going to end up. I don’t think anybody really knows,” he added. “A lot depends on how I do in the spring and how other guys do in spring practice and what the team needs the most. It’s a good problem for me to have, being a player that can play a bunch of different positions. It’s a good problem for the coaching staff to have and as a whole it’s a good problem for the team to have, an extra body that you can bring on the road.”
Esch’s versatility and baseball acumen were developed at Minneapolis high school baseball powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall.
Cretin-Derham has won 11 state championships, beginning in 1981 and as recently as 2007, and produced such famous alumni as former Toronto Blue Jays prospect Chris Weinke, who is better known for winning the 2000 Heisman Trophy at age 28 as Florida State’s quarterback, current Twins catcher, Joe Mauer, a four-time American League All-Star and 2009 A.L. Most Valuable Player and, perhaps the most overlooked in Esch’s opinion — and arguably the most versatile — alumnus, Paul Molitor, a 2004 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Paul Molitor kind of ends up getting looked over behind [Mauer and Weinke] because they were football standouts,” Esch stated. “But the idea of the program is to win a state title every year and if everybody has that attitude it brings good things to individual players down the road. So in my high school, the attitude is to win every game by as much as possible. Take the tough times when they happen but bounce back the next day and play hard.”
Esch brought attitude with him when he arrived at Georgia Tech and it is something he’s really taken to heart heading into the 2011 season. The part about bouncing back is especially apropos, following the the Jackets’ loss in the 2010 Atlanta Regional.
“Not take anything for granted,” he said. “I know we took for granted the fact that, we felt we had not the most difficult regional. We felt like we could win through it and we had the right attitude. I just think that after Adam Morgan painted around us, we kind of lost that extra edge that we had and then, playing Alabama that second game was heartbreaking, really. We wanted to win, they wanted to win. It ended up coming down to a couple of bounces went their way.
“The way we approach that this year is, ‘Hey let’s make the bounces go our way. Let’s work harder than everybody else,'” he continued. “We’re going to have to because we’re young and not let things bounce the other way.”
From a personal standpoint, Esch is hoping to get a bounce from 2010.
“I had a little bit of success. I definitely felt I could have done better last season but just getting my feet wet adds confidence,” he said. “Being able to know that I did it once, so I can do it again.”
Regardless of where he’s doing it.