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#STINGDAILY: Opening Night at Russ Chandler Stadium

Feb. 14, 2013

by Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

Even after all these years, Danny Hall and Buck Farmer get a little uptight in a time like this. It is, after all, opening day, and that’s a big deal for Georgia Tech baseball – especially this Yellow Jackets team.

The Jackets have bountiful talent back from the squad that last spring somewhat miraculously became the first No. 8 seed to win the ACC tournament. Tech earned its way into that tournament half on a prayer in the very final weekend of league play.

Tech, ranked No. 21, will be favored in the 4 p.m. game at Russ Chandler Stadium, what with Farmer – a senior preseason All-America pick – working opposite Akron righthander Jon Pusateri.

“I think no matter what you’re going to have some jitters,” Farmer said. “Every pitcher is going to have some butterflies when they go out there in that first inning, especially with it being opening day. I still get butterflies.”

With 23 letterwinners and 10 starters (including pitchers) back, the head coach has a good idea who’s going to play where and when. Hall, however, has not solved every equation. Freshman Matt Gonzalez, for example, has made quite the impression in fall and winter practices, and he’s not alone among newcomers in that.

“I look at our first three weeks of the season, they’re non-conference games, you want to keep an eye on your starting rotation. You’re going to limit their pitch count,” Hall said on the even of his 20th season with the Jackets. “You try to establish what kind of bullpen you’ve got, and what roles guys are going to play.

“We’re going to move some guys around to see what’s our best defensive lineup, and what’s our best offensive lineup. By the time we go to Blacksburg, Va., to pen up the ACC season, we hope that we have our lineups and roles close to being set.”

Gonzalez, an infielder from Harrison High in Acworth, will play plenty this season although it’s not clear exactly where. Other young lads will log meaningful time, too, even on a team with so much experience back in the fold. Gonzalez is breathing deep.

“I try to look at the older guys and see how they act, and kind of stay in check and do my part. I just try to take a deep breath, and slow the game down a little bit,” he said. “I can follow their example. It’s a great group of guys to be around.”

Former Yellow Jacket Mark Teixiera, now a Yankee, will be there today.

Rested after his Broadway debut (seriously, look here) he’ll throw out the first pitch as he takes a break from spring training with the Bronx Bombers.

There are no guarantees that Gonzalez will follow in the footsteps of Big Tex – either at the plate or on Broadway. He has prospects, though, no doubt.

“Matt is very talented. I like everything he does. He’s very aggressive on the baseball field. He has a lot of instinct for the game. I think he’s got a chance to be a great hitter,” Hall said. “Probably the other guy would be Johnathan King. He’s been our most impressive freshman pitcher.

“We were talking, most years Matt would probably hit second, fifth, sixth or seventh but he might be hitting eighth or ninth on this team. To have a guy of that caliber hitting down in the order, that’s a nice thing to have.”

Gonzalez may not start today. The Jackets have as much depth as Hall has worked with in years. There is no need to rush newbies into the lineup.

“I think that’s why I’m very optimistic about the kind of year that we can have because we have a lot of veteran leadership, a bunch of seniors and juniors that have played a lot,” Hall said. “It definitely allows us to bring the freshmen along at the pace I want to bring them along.”

Look at Buck Farmer; he’s not pulling a Charles Barkley. He’s embracing the role of role model.

“Experience goes a long way in college baseball,” Farmer said. “I think we’re in a good situation where we have a lot of of seniors and juniors being in the mix, but I think a lot of our freshmen . . .  have the capability of doing it.”



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