April 6, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Wade Bailey is one of those guys that can’t wait to get to the ballpark.
Once he gets there he can’t wait to take the field and can’t wait to get up to hit. One can only imagine the rate the adrenaline racing through his body once he digs into the box.
Early on, opposing pitchers had a pretty good idea and exploited that over-eagerness. That helped explain why after his first nine games the Villa Rica, Ga., native was batting .242 (8-for-33), with one extra-base hit (a double) and one multi-hit game.
“It wasn’t tough. It was more controlling my emotions,” he said. “I think I was playing a little too high. I decided to settle down and just do what I do. Just play ball.”
He’s started playing ball on Feb. 28, against Indiana State, snapping a 2-for-16 slump by smoking Sycamore pitching for four hits in five trips to the plate, with a double and three runs scored.
In the 22 games beginning that day, Bailey’s hit .326 (28-for-86), with six doubles and five multi-hit games and enters Tuesday’s midweek game with Mercer at Russ Chandler Stadium (first pitch 6 p.m.) riding a current team-high 11-game hitting streak, one off the team’s season-high, set by Daniel Spingola. During the streak, he’s batting .350 (14-for-40) with eight runs scored, and he’s coming off a big weekend at Virginia Tech, where he hit .455 (5-for-11), blasted his first homer of the year, scored twice runs and drove in two runs, earning RBIs in back-to-back games for the second time this season and first time in 15 games.
“Most of it’s just a learning curve,” Bailey said. “I finally have some at-bats under me and I’ve learned a lot. It’s just nice to have an approach and stick to it and good things are starting to happen at the plate.”
Bailey, who was involved in four game-winning plays heading into last weekend in Blacksburg, was involved in key rallies in all three games. His sacrifice bunt was central to a decisive five-run ninth in Friday’s 11-6 victory, his ninth-inning RBI single gave the Jackets a one-run lead on Saturday, then, on Sunday, he was part of both Georgia Tech rallies, singling in the five-run second, then homering leading off the two-run fourth.
The two hits on Sunday were huge and personified Bailey and his resilience
He’d ridden a ninth-inning emotional rollercoaster in Saturday’s 9-8 Virginia Tech win, as his hit in the top of the ninth gave Tech the lead, 8-7, but his error in the bottom half allowed the winning run to score.
Undeterred, Bailey bounced back and resumed his role of getting things going and helping the team’s never-say-die approach.
“Just being a little sparkplug, finding a way on, finding a way to get in, I think it really excites the team and we just start to win ballgames at the end,” he said. “It’s awesome. Even when we’re down, teams can’t really put us out. We just keep fighting. It’s always fun to be part of a scrappy baseball team.”
The fourth-inning blast Sunday was an outlier. Bailey knows his job is to simply start the ball rolling, then wait for the long ball.
He accomplishes that simply by putting the ball in play. Bailey has struck out only nine times in 119 at-bats (once every 13.2 at-bats, although, ironically, twice on Sunday, when he went deep).
“Just make sure you put the bat on the ball, not strike out,” he said. “Even if you ground out to short, I’ve reached three times in the [midweek games at Georgia and vs. Georgia State] on errors and I’ve ended up scoring. So it’s just good to put some pressure on the defense and make them make plays.”
Defensively, Bailey doesn’t provide that luxury. He’s fielding .968 (five errors in 157 chances) and has fit right in at second base, where he’s taken over for last year’s senior leader Mott Hyde. The team hasn’t missed a beat, as Georgia Tech leads the ACC in fielding, with a .978 percentage, and is third in double plays, with 30, only two off the lead (Bailey’s been a part of 19 of them).
He credits his successful transition to college ball to playing next to sophomore shortstop Connor Justus, one of several Jackets with whom he also played for the East Cobb Yankees.
“We played together before we got here, so we were already pretty familiar with each other, really good friends,” he said. “He’s always fun to play with. There’s no telling what kind of plays he’s going to make any night.”
Justus likes the way the duo has progressed up the middle.
“It’s going great. He’s awesome,” said Justus. “He makes the plays that he needs to and he gets me the ball and lets me do what I need to. We’re working really well together.
“We talk a lot about just making the plays, making the routine plays and the spectacular plays will come,” he added. “If you make the ones you’re supposed and let the rest take care of itself then it’s going to be a great year.”
Winners of four of five and having snapped their two-series losing streak, Georgia Tech feels it’s full-speed ahead. They’re two wins ahead of last season, and are hitting, slugging, scoring and homering at higher rates than last season. They’re also getting heroics from the youngsters on the pitching staff and the bullpen appears to be in full lockdown mode.
Bailey can’t wait to see what the final six weeks and then postseason hold.
“We’ve been playing really well together as a team, timely hits, situational hitting, everything like that,” he said. “Keep the same approach, keep playing hard and good things will happen. I think we’re really starting to click as a team. Only uphill from here, right?”
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