June 7, 2002
By Simit Shah – There are certain similarities among championship baseball teams. Solid pitching, clutch hitting and good defense are all obvious cornerstones. However, there’s almost always a role player willing to do whatever it takes to win. For the Yellow Jackets, senior Wes Rynders is that man.
Rynders entered the 2002 campaign having anchored center field for most of the past three seasons. A solid hitter, Rynders earned his stripes as an excellent defensive outfielder. However, he found himself on the bench at the start of the season, as freshman Brandon Boggs earned the starting nod from coach Danny Hall.
Faced with not being in the lineup everyday, Rynders had a tough choice to make. He could sulk away his final season, or he could embrace his new role as a reserve.
As one of only three seniors on a team with 17 freshmen, Rynders knew that he had to lead by example, even if he wasn’t a starter.
“Honestly, it was a shock to me not to be starting, since I had been for three years,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to accept your role. My role early in the year was to play against left-handed pitchers, play defense in the late innings and do the things to help the team out. I was willing to do any of those.”
Asked to do the little things to help the team win, Rynders responded with stellar results. Midway through the season, he earned his starting job back.
“I think he’s one of our unsung heroes,” said Hall. “He was in a totally different role than his first three years, but his attitude has been outstanding. He’s contributed when he has started.
“Late in the year, he has become the full-time starter in center field and played great. I can’t say enough good things about the way he has handled not being an everyday starter for most of the year.”
Rynders, a product of baseball-rich East Cobb, is hitting .386 with 25 RBI entering this week’s super regional against Florida Atlantic. If the Jackets win the three-game series, they’ll be headed to Omaha for the College World Series.
“We have a great chance, especially since we’re hosting,” Rynders said. “If we play our best, there aren’t a whole lot of teams in the country that can beat us.”
Rynders’ contribution both on and off the field has been an integral part of the Jackets’ success this season. Last year’s team began the season as the top-ranked team in the nation, but the Jackets sputtered through the regular season and were knocked out early in the postseason.
“Last year, we didn’t really have any leadership,” said Rynders. “We had a bunch of guys that had been there before, but no one that really wanted to lead. This year with three seniors and not many upperclassmen, it was on us to make the freshmen learn quickly and keep everyone in line.”
The Jackets have had a surprising season thus far. They have a 49-14 record and have been perched in the top 15 for most of the season.
Though they’ve been consistent start to finish this season, Rynders felt an altercation Tech had during a game at Maryland in April brought the team closer together and triggered a late season surge.
“It’s ironic, but the Maryland brawl really helped us come together as a team even more,” he said, “It wasn’t the best thing we could have done, but it helped us come together as a team. Ever since then, we’ve played really great baseball.”
Last weekend, they captured the NCAA regional with relative ease at Russ Chander Stadium.
“We don’t have a ‘superstar’ like Mark Teixeira or Richard Lewis, but there’s a different hero everyday,” said Rynders. “Everyone does something, whether it’s a guy of the bench, a pitcher, someone hitting third in the order or someone hitting ninth. It really doesn’t matter. Someone different steps up in every game. That’s what makes our team so much better this year.”