Oct. 12, 2009
by Jon Cooper
OSR Contributing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
Kris Wilson’s meal ticket appeared to be in football as a quarterback. Playing baseball was just something extra he wanted to do.
“I was pretty much playing with house money because I was on a football scholarship with the agreement that I was going to play baseball,” recalled Wilson. “Deep down, I knew I was excited to play for Georgia Tech baseball and football.”
But a suggested change of position to tight end by new football coach George O’Leary in the fall of 1994 led Wilson to change his position on priority of sports.
That was good news for baseball coach Danny Hall in only his second season on The Flats. He liked the 6-foot-4 Wilson as a right-handed pitcher, and wanted him to help re-stock a team that had finished as runner-up in the 1994 College World Series before losing a lot of talent, including longtime Major Leaguers Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Jay Payton.
Hall wanted Wilson very badly.
“When he was a freshman, he was our best pitcher and he had to go through spring football,” remembered Hall. “So if he had a scrimmage on Saturday morning, we would fly him wherever we were after the scrimmage and he would pitch on Sundays for us. He was a real competitive guy, an outstanding pitcher.”
In retrospect, the decision to play baseball proved a good one, not only because of his performance on the mound, but also because the following season, Tech recruited a new quarterback, who would turn out pretty good — Joe Hamilton, who is being inducted with Wilson into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2009.
It didn’t take Wilson long to gain the respect of his baseball teammates.
“He was a bulldog. He was our ace from day one and he didn’t even play fall ball with us his freshman year because he was on the football team,” recalled J.J. Thomas, a slugging first baseman/outfielder who went to Tech the same year as Wilson, played with him for three years and is going into the Tech Hall of Fame with him on Nov. 6.
“We didn’t know what we had in him until we were preparing for our freshman season. His slider was, at times, unhittable and his mentality, he was going to get the job done.”
As a freshman, Wilson was led the Yellow Jackets in strikeouts (101) and innings pitched (112), and helped the team to a 38-22 mark, 16-8 in the ACC.
After a 40-win 1996 season, Tech rode Wilson’s arm in 1997 to a 46-15 record and an ACC regular season title (19-4).
In the opener of the Mideast Regional, Wilson threw a one-hitter against Tennessee Tech, but Tech eventually fell one game short of getting to Omaha, losing to host Mississippi State. He would be voted to the NCAA Tournament All-Regional team with Thomas.
Wilson also would be named a first-team All-America, leading the Jackets in wins (12, against two losses), innings (118 1/3), ERA (3.12, also tops in the ACC), and fewest walks per nine innings (2.28). He also proved dangerous at the plate, hitting .299, with 14 doubles, five homers and 43 RBI when getting the opportunity at first base and designated hitter. He even earned a spot on the ACC All-Tournament team as a DH.
“Anytime he went to the mound we felt like we had a chance to win,” remembered Hall. “It didn’t matter who we were playing. He gave our team a lot of confidence every time we knew he was pitching.”
“That year was by far the most fun I had and the most I ever enjoyed a season of baseball,” recalled Wilson. “Baseball was back to being fun again, like being 12, playing Little League. We had a good team. We just didn’t play our best ball at the end of the year.”
Wilson left Tech after his junior year, being drafted in the ninth round in 1997 the Kansas City Royals. He appeared in 95 games over parts of five Major League seasons with the Royals and New York Yankees, finishing with a career record of 14-9, one save, and an ERA of 5.44.
Today, he lives in Oldsmar, Fla., and is about nine hours short of attaining his degree in business management at the University of South Florida.
He’s definitely looking forward to returning to Atlanta on Nov. 6, for the Hall of Fame induction, a moment made doubly special because he will go in with Thomas.
“It’s very special because a lot of memories go back to J.J. when I think of Georgia Tech,” said Wilson, who still ranks fifth all-time among Tech pitchers in innings pitched (329 2/3), 10th in strikeouts (270), and fourth walks per nine innings (2.44). “There many games where J.J. drove me in with his home runs when I was hitting and when I was pitching he hit home runs to win games.”
There’s also the pride of helping to carry on the tradition of winning established by the ’94 team.
“They obviously started a tradition,” he said. “You learn a lot from the people before you and I definitely learned from them. That’s what makes Georgia Tech such a good program, people take pride in the tradition.”
The Georgia Tech Hall of Fame Induction Dinner will be held on Friday, November 6 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. A social hour will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the dinner/program to follow at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased at $50.00 per person through the Alexander-Tharpe Fund (150 Bobby Dodd Way, N.W., Atlanta, GA, 30332-0455 or by calling 404-894-6124). Additional information relative to the banquet may be secured by calling Lucius Sanford, Executive Director of the Georgia Tech Letterwinners Club at 404-894-8865.