Nov. 8, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Life can be so unpredictable, often unfolding in ways you never see coming.
Consider Mark Teixeira’s path to Georgia Tech.
In the winter of 1997, Teixeira was a power-hitting, switch-hitting third baseman, with experience at shortstop at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Catonville, Md., being wooed by baseball powers throughout the land.
Georgia Tech head baseball coach Danny Hall, meanwhile, was in his office on the recruiting trail. The phone rang that would change everything for Hall, Georgia Tech baseball, and Teixeira.
“We weren’t recruiting [Teixeira],” admitted Hall. “A guy that was very in tuned with him in the recruiting process called me and asked, ‘Why aren’t you recruiting Mark Teixeira?’ I said, ‘He’s too good for school. I think he’s going to be a first-round pick and I’d be wasting my time.’
“After about 10 minutes, this guy convinced me that if he wasn’t a first-round pick that he would go to school,” Hall continued. “So I ended up making a phone call and offered him a visit. We were literally the last visit he went on. I think he came in here on a Wednesday, went home on a Thursday and I think by Friday or Saturday he had committed to us.”
“I actually went all over the country to look for schools,” recalled Teixeira, who had visited Arizona State, Stanford, Miami, and Clemson prior to Georgia Tech. “Every one of those schools has a great program and would have been a nice choice for me, but when I went to Georgia Tech, there was just something telling me ‘This is the place for me.’ It was everything from the education I was trying to get to the comfort level I had with the coaches and the players on the team. It just felt like home right away.”
Teixera’s Yellow Jackets legacy will be right at home in the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame, as he will be inducted Wednesday night as part of the Class of 2011, joining golfer Bryce Molder, football players Rodney Williams and Harvey Middleton and tennis player Benjamin Cassaigne.
It’s the latest honor for “Tex,” who won the Dick Howser Trophy as National Player of the Year in 2000, and was a consensus First Team All-American and ACC Player of the Year in 2000, and who was National Freshman of the Year and Second-Team All-America in 1999.
In his three seasons, he hit. 409 with 36 homers and 165 RBIs.
His best season was 2000, his sophomore year, when he hit .427, with 18 homers, 80 RBIs and even 13 stolen bases. He had 103 hits and scored 104 runs (the school record) in helping lead the Yellow Jackets to a 50-16 record, and the 2000 ACC Regular Season and Tournament championships. Georgia Tech also hosted the school’s first Super Regional that season.
That year’s ACC Tournament ranked among his favorite memories, as the Yellow Jackets pounded out 42 runs and 61 hits in five games, knocking off Clemson, 8-4 to take home the crown.
“We had a great regular season. We won the regular season championship and then went through the ACC Championship and won that tournament,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. We had a nice celebration with our teammates and friends and family after the tournament and that was a nice moment for us as players.”
Teixeira left school after his junior season, when he was selected fifth overall by the Texas Rangers, the second-highest selection ever by a Yellow Jacket — only Ty Griffin, who was selected fourth overall in 1988 by the Chicago Cubs has gone sooner — but he hardly left Atlanta empty-handed.
In addition to the awards and rankings in the school’s top 10 in batting average (.409, third), slugging (.721, second) among other categories, he left having made many lifelong friends, most important of whom was his wife, Leigh.
“If the only thing I got from Georgia Tech was meeting my wife then it would have been the right choice for me,” he said. “But meeting my wife and us being able to share those memories together at Georgia Tech and so many friends that I’ve made and continue to stay in touch with just really made Georgia Tech a special place for me and it continues to be special.”
Another of the friends he made at Tech is Molder.
“Just hearing that I was going in with my good friend Bryce Molder was very satisfying,” he said. “Bryce and I got to know each other early on in college.
“The great thing about Georgia Tech is that the athletic department really creates a great environment for all athletes to hang out and all athletes to forge friendships. A lot of the golfers became my good friends and Bryce was one of them.”
Teixeira recently completed his ninth Major League season, his third with the New York Yankees, and is a two-time All-Star, a three-time Silver Slugger and four-time Gold Glover at first base. While he calls Greenwich, Conn., home, he still stays close to Tech.
On Feb. 9, 2009, he created the Mark C. Teixeira Athletic Scholarship Fund at Georgia Tech, donating $500,000 to Georgia Tech, which will cover the cost of a Yellow Jacket baseball scholarship annually.
It’s just Teixeira’s way of saying “Thank you.”
“I want what’s best for the Georgia Tech baseball program,” he said. “One part of that is endowing a scholarship, which was very important to me. It’s a goal of mine, and the athletic department, to have the baseball team fully endowed. We’re working towards that goal. Not only the endowed scholarship, but also raising money for anything Coach Hall and the team needs, whether that’s in the weight room, whether that’s in the locker room facilities, on the field, off the field. I’m just trying to do everything I can to make Georgia Tech’s baseball program the best in the country.”
Hall is not surprised by Teixeira’s unselfishness and commitment to giving back.
“He is by far the best that I have ever been around of giving back to something that he’s very passionate about, which is Georgia Tech,” he said. “Not only is he committing money but he’s committing time all the time to come back and try to help raise money for our program. He’s helped a lot of other people. It’s not just Georgia Tech. I know he’s been very involved in his high school. He’s been very involved in a program in Harlem for kids up there.
“It just tells you what kind of person he is,” he added. “He looks beyond himself and tries to help other people.”