May 2, 2002
By Simit Shah – Eric Patterson is nothing like you’d expect. The Jackets’ rookie second baseman is the son of Don Patterson, who starred on the gridiron at Tech and in the NFL, and the younger brother of Corey Patterson, a rising star with the Chicago Cubs.
Eric Patterson has a license to be brash, overconfident and arrogant based solely on his family’s athletic prowess, but instead he is quiet, polite and well-mannered, mentioning his kin only when asked.
He also understates his considerable talent, but his play this season speaks volumes.
Patterson has anchored second base as a freshman, starting 42 games heading into this weekend. His .389 batting average leads the team, as does his .471 on-base percentage.
Patterson also has a team-high 29 stolen bases, which already ranks 11th in the school record books for a single season. His speed has been paramount in reducing the team’s reliance on the long ball. Patterson began the season batting ninth, but he moved to the leadoff spot in late March.
“He’s a table-setter for our team,” said head coach Danny Hall, whose team hosts an important three-game series against top-ranked Clemson this weekend. “He’s our leading hitter, he’s our leadoff hitter, leads the team in stolen bases and he’s a great defensive player.
“He ignites our offense. If you look at the games that we have played well in and probably won, he has been a major factor in all of those categories.”
Those statistics and the integral role he plays for the 9th-ranked Jackets make Patterson a front-runner for rookie-of-the-year in the ACC. It’s the kind of performance that draws the inevitable comparisons to his brother, who has become the starting center fielder for the Cubs.
“That doesn’t bother me,” said Patterson, who talks to his brother several times a week. “I’m very proud of him, and I look up to him. He’s a hard worker, and I admire what he’s done.
“I think the biggest reason it doesn’t bother me is my dad’s approach to it all. He made sure that we understood that we were two different individuals. He and my mom made sure we understood that.”
In a way, Patterson has followed his older brother’s footsteps. Both starred at Cobb County’s Harrison High School. (Eric was a freshman when Corey was a senior, so they played together one season.) Corey accepted a scholarship to Tech, and he came close to enrolling before coming to terms with the Cubs, who drafted him the third pick overall in 1998. The deal included a whopping $3.7 million signing bonus.
Did all that money change the Patterson household? “There was no change at all, except there was one less person around the house,” according to Eric.
Eric Patterson was also drafted, but opted to play collegiate baseball. His decision to come to Tech was a “no-brainer” because the academic and athletic reputation of the school. Plus, both his parents attended Tech. His father Don was a three-year football letterman at defensive back, and his mother Carolyn earned a chemical engineering degree.
“I wasn’t quite ready yet for the pros,” said Patterson. “There were things I needed to work on, being more consistent each and every day. I think my size was a factor, too. I really want to get bigger and stronger.”
Hall agrees and points to Eric’s 5-10, 160-pound frame as the difference between the two brothers.
“In comparison to his brother, I think (Corey) just physically matured earlier than Eric,” noted Hall. “I don’t think Eric’s skills are a lot less than his brother. I think Eric’s skills when he’s 21 will be close to what Corey’s were when he was 18.”
Though Patterson dismisses the notion of being in his brother’s shadow, he admits that he’s asked about Corey several times a day. It simply comes with the territory, though Patterson is firmly focused on finishing the season strong.
“We’re young, but we have a lot of talent,” he said. “We’re getting better. We’re starting to figure things out.”
And what does he want to accomplish before joining his brother in the pros?
“There’s only one thing–a national championship,” Patterson said without hesitation. “The ultimate goal is to play in Omaha and win it all.”