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Papal Audience

June 17, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Mark Pope created a lot of great moments in his three seasons at Georgia Tech.

In three years on The Flats, the talented right-handed pitcher from Marietta, who was selected by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round of the 2011 June Draft, was 24-6, with a 3.00 ERA (10th-best in school history) and four career complete-game shutouts, the modern day record.

It was quite a ride for the Walton High School graduate, who originally seemed destined to close games.

“It’s crazy considering where I started out from,” he said. “It’s been a stepping-stone process for me.”

Pope’s first step was finishing games. He chalked up eight saves in 25 appearances as a freshman.

The next step would come his sophomore season, when he would move into the mid-week starter’s role. Pope went 8-1, 7-0 in midweek games and was 3-0 against Georgia. That season would set up the quantum leap he’d make as a junior.

“Last year I’d be working my way to where I am now as a pitcher,” he said. “Getting my routine going starting and also playing teams like Georgia, which is the most wacked-out, crazy game you’ll play the whole year. That got me ready for just about anything. Things seemed to come together this year really well and I was just really excited with how it all turned out.”

As a junior, Pope was named the Friday-night starter and pitched like an ace. He was one of the premier pitchers in the nation, going 11-4, with a microscopic 1.74 earned-run average. His ERA was the sixth-best in school history and the lowest by a Yellow Jacket in 38 years (Mike Schisler had a 1.35 ERA). Amongst Pope’s gems was his April 15th one-hitter against Wake Forest, the school’s first since 1997.

He was rewarded by earning 2011 All-ACC first-team honors, was a Pitcher of the Year Award quarterfinalist, a Golden Spikes Award Semifinalist, a 2011 Louisville Slugger Second-Team All-American and recently was named All-America by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and Baseball America.

“It’s awesome to see all those awards by my name,” he said. “It’s something I really have worked for a long, long time. It’s awesome to see that all the years of effort come into results like that and you’re rewarded for it.”

Pope’s ultimate reward came on June 6, when the Padres selected Pope with the 173rd overall pick. It was a day that he admitted he will never forget.

“I was sitting here at my house with my family and a couple of close friends just watching the draft,” he said. “When they called my name it was awesome. I was so excited and everybody here was cheering for me. They were as happy as can be.”

Pope had similar feelings for teammates Jed Bradley (first round, Milwaukee Brewers), Matt Skole (fifth round, Washington Nationals, 16 picks before him), and Jacob Esch (11th round, Florida Marlins), who also were selected.

“Knowing how hard everybody’s worked for it, you just want the best for everybody,” he said. “I’m really glad it paid off for so many guys. Especially with the caliber of a team we had, I felt like we deserved to have as many guys drafted as we did and it was awesome just to see everybody go to all these different places. Hopefully we’ll see each other down the road at some point.”

Pope isn’t sure what his next move will be — he’s waiting to get that information from the Padres — but is excited about the possibility of some day playing in San Diego.

“All I’ve ever really heard about San Diego is that the water is perfect, it’s one of the coolest cities you’ll ever go to and that the Padres are there,” he said. “It’s one of the best teams you can imagine being on.”

He’s also imagined pitching in spacious PETCO Park.

“That’s something you always look forward to,” he said.

As Pope anticipates moving forward with his professional career, he will never forget his days at Georgia Tech.

“It’s crazy to think that it’s already happened,” he said. “It seems like it went by so fast.”

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