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Sam I Can

April 11, 2011

By Jon Cooper

Sting Daily

Sam Dove always wanted to play baseball and he wanted to play it at Georgia Tech.

He wasn’t going to take no for an answer and he wouldn’t even take a scholarship to play somewhere else.

“When I was younger I always wanted to come here,” said the 20-year-old native of Brentwood, Tenn., who turned down offers from Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State and other smaller Division I schools after starring at Brentwood Academy. “I had opportunities to go play other places [on scholarship], but [Georgia Tech] and the program really just drew me here and for some reason I was never interested in anything else.

“I knew if I got here that I was good enough to play here,” he added. “I really don’t know how to explain it but I never really thought about going anywhere else, even if I was just walking on.”

The Yellow Jackets are glad for Dove’s discerning taste and willingness to battle his way onto the team.

“There were other schools that would have liked to have had him. It tells you about his competitive nature,” said Georgia Tech Baseball Head Coach Danny Hall. “He wanted to go to the best school he could, which Georgia Tech is going to be one of the best, and get the best chance to play baseball. When we told him we’d give him a chance to walk on and give him an opportunity, that’s what he was looking for. To try to play at a school that had the best of both worlds — great academics and great baseball.”

Dove, who carried a 4.0 GPA in all four years of high school, didn’t see the field much during his freshman year, which he understood because of Tech’s wealth of upper-class talent, especially on the infield, where he played. Seeing what the Yellow Jackets brought in recruiting-wise prior to 2011, Dove knew he had his work cut out for him to see the field as a sophomore.

So he worked. And he worked.

He agreed to move to the outfield in the fall and worked at that. And he worked and he worked some more.

It appeared to be for naught, as through the team’s first 17 games, Dove had more DNPs (Did Not Plays), 17, than AB’s (at-bats), 7, starting a couple of games at designated hitter, pinch-running and providing some late-inning defense.

But beginning on March 16, against Georgia Southern, Dove again started at DH.

Since that game, Dove has made it impossible for Hall to get him out — he’s stared the 15 games since in left field. Opposing pitchers haven’t fared much better.

Dove, who started the March 16 game hitting .143, will the field at Russ Chandler Stadium tonight against Georgia (first pitch is at 7:00 p.m.) batting .323 on the season, having hit .340 since being inserted into the outfield, and putting together an 11-game hitting streak, during which he hit .436 (17-for-39).

“Sam’s a great player. He’s a 100 percent effort guy,” said third baseman Matt Skole. “He’s out here every day getting extra work, getting work in. He got his chance to get in the lineup and he’s made the best of it. I can’t praise him enough. He’s a good player, he’s a great kid and he’s been a big lift for our offense.”

“He’s a hard worker,” added pitcher Jed Bradley. “He’s got a really level head. He’s one guy who doesn’t try to do too much in a given situation. He knows his strengths and he just goes about his business every day. You’ve got to respect that.”

Dove said he learned a lot from watching as a freshman, and his confidence never wavered.

“I knew that last year was going to be a learning experience, really learning from [the upperclassmen], how to play the game and everything,” he said. “This year I was just working hard and I knew I would get a chance. I just knew I had to be ready when that chance came. That’s just inner motivation, I guess. I always knew that I could do it. I just kept working hard and it’s paying off.”

He added facing the likes of Mark Pope, Bradley, Buck Farmer and Tech’s starters during the Fall helped him.

“Our pitching staff is probably one of the tops in the ACC if not the tops,” he said. “So just hitting against those guys definitely gets you ready for the other teams,” he said. “Because some of the guys we have are better than any of the guys I’m going to face.”

Dove has proved ready for ACC play. He’s responded by hitting .357 (15-for-42), third on the team behind Kyle Wren (.426) and Jake Davies (.417).

“It’s great. It’s one of the top conferences in the country,” he said. “It’s everything I thought it would be. It’s exciting, it’s challenging and it’s frustrating at times but it’s also very rewarding.”

Hall says that success stories like Dove are a common in college baseball due to scholarship restrictions, as baseball only allows 11.7 scholarships. But that Dove’s work ethic makes him uncommon.

“He got a chance to play and has taken great advantage of it,” said Hall. “Those are good stories. You need the Sam Doves of the world that are very smart, can get into school at Tech and handle the workload of school, that end up getting a chance to play and they take advantage of it.”

Dove, who is majoring in Polymer, Textile and Fiber Engineering, hopes to stay in the game when he’s done at Tech.

“What I’m hoping is that it leads to is a job somewhere for say, Nike or Underarmour to develop performance materials, both apparel-wise and performance-wise, such as bats and carbon-fiber in golf clubs,” he said. “But mainly, different kinds of apparel. We have the cool gear, the Underarmour, all that stuff, but there’s always room for improvement in those technologies.”

Of course, with his work ethic, the way he’s ascending, and Georgia Tech’s reputation for developing Major League talent, Dove has not completely ruled out taking a shot at the Major Leagues.

“That’s definitely the goal,” he said. “That would be a dream come true. So I just have to keep working hard.”

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