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#TGW: Mac-Nificent!

by Jon Cooper

The biggest stars on a team can shine during a season (sometimes more than one) and people will immediately know their name.

The biggest stars in a program often shine years after they’ve played their final game yet people might not know them.

Lawton “Mac” Nease would be the first to tell you he ranked among the latter.

In fact, he did just that in his opening remarks on Saturday afternoon in Champions Hall, during the dedication ceremony celebrating the completion of Phase II of what is now Mac Nease Baseball Park at Russ Chandler Stadium.

“I’m gonna save all of you some time,” said Nease, looking toward the wall of All-Americans, then adding with a laugh. “When you look up the bats on the wall and you look at the baseballs (of Hall of Famers), don’t look for mine. You won’t find one.”

No, you won’t. But Nease’s impact is undeniable. It’s the reason his name is the first fans see when entering the home of Georgia Tech Baseball.

Mac needed no introduction to the audience assembled at Champions Hall, which included Russ Chandler, former Jackets teammates Randy Carroll and Terry Hall, and even Tech Football Assistant Head Coach Brent Key, and featured such dignitaries as President Dr. Angel Cabrera, Director of Athletics Todd Stansbury, Baseball Head Coach Danny Hall and Yellow Jackets legend Mark Teixeira.

The dedication and completion of Phase II was the realization of a vision that allowed for dreams of what can be for the baseball program and illustrated the latest example of what can be done when Georgia Tech minds come together.

“Being able to pull a project together that we visualized four-and-a-half years ago and now it’s a reality, is incredibly gratifying and exciting,” said Stansbury. “I think it shows the commitment that our donors have and the Institution has for baseball. This is just a piece of that.”

That Phase I and Phase II piece came with a price tag approaching $13.5 million. That’s where Mac (Class of ‘65) and Brenda stepped up. This was more than just writing a check. It was an act of love — one done without expectation of recognition.

“It’s humbling. It’s truly an honor — for Brenda and for me — to have our name on this baseball facility,” Nease said. “I’ve had a love affair with baseball since I was 10 years old. I’ve had a love affair with Brenda since I was 13 years old and I have had a love affair with Georgia Tech since I was 17.

“This place changed our lives,” he continued. “We were delighted to have the opportunity to invest in the young people from Georgia Tech. Our investment in students here has probably been the best investment we’ve ever made. It’s been a great thrill for us.”

The Georgia Tech family is thrilled as well, and grateful.

“What you and Brenda have done for this place is just phenomenal,” said Dr. Cabrera. “I thank you so much for what you’ve done. Russ and the (other donors), what we do here every day wouldn’t be possible without your love, your commitment, your generosity.”

Hall was especially moved, needing a moment to compose himself during his remarks.

“There are a lot of people in this room from ‘94 on who have helped me navigate, put these teams together, put Georgia Tech Baseball on the map,” said Hall, whose voice began to quiver when he got to Nease. “He knows how I feel about him. ‘Mac,’ ‘Together we swarm!’ but most of this would not be possible without you and Brenda. I’m forever grateful and thankful.”

After taking a sip of water, Hall continued.

“That was the vision — player development, the lab, recruiting, fan engagement, we want to win a National Championship, we want to go to Omaha, we want to make this place proud. This building and this facility will help us do that.”

Teixeira, who delivered in Phase II, as he did in Phase I — a $4.5 million initiative in 2014 that saw an expansion of the locker room and the addition of a weight room — believes that the facility already is something to be proud — even jealous — of.

“I played at Yankee Stadium for eight years,” he said. “I walked into this facility and the first thing I told Coach Hall was, ‘Yankee Stadium has to do a little upgrade because the Mac Nease Baseball Facility is No. 1.’”

The locker room already bore his name. Now, so do the new batting cages, known as the Teixeira Batting Tunnel, and the outside upper level, named the Teixeira Skyline Terrace, which honors Mark, who left after his junior year of 2002 — he’s currently finishing his degree — and wife, Leigh, (Class of ‘01). It’s a spacious area, fittingly, along the third base line — where the legend of “Tex” was established — to relax and watch the game, while also getting to take in the Atlanta skyline.

“We’re in Midtown Atlanta, one of the most incredible settings in collegiate baseball,” said Stansbury, who called it his favorite part of Phase II. “With so many of our neighbors in the corporate community wanting to provide an executive-type experience that they would find, whether it’s at Truist Park or Mercedes-Benz Stadium, that definitely played a role in being able to elevate the fan experience here.”

Stansbury also praised other former players, who provided a significant portion funding for Phase II.

“The baseball family at Georgia Tech is unique in that, they go on from a baseball standpoint, they don’t forget where they came from and re-invest in the program,” he said. “I think that’s a tribute to them but also validates the Georgia Tech culture and the culture that Danny Hall has created. His former players stay connected and continue to invest in the program.”

Phase II also promises to be big in bringing in and developing the next generation of Yellow Jackets.

“One of the guiding lights of what we wanted this facility to be, was a facility that our pros would come back to in the offseason to train in,” Stansbury said. “Knowing that if it’s good enough for our pros, it’s definitely going to be appealing to those 16- and 17-year-old potential recruits. Having our successful pros around the program actually training here in the offseason creates that family atmosphere. Coach Hall’s got an incredible track record and I think this gives him the ability not only to continue to recruit at the highest level but develop a better student-athlete once we get them here. I think that’s going to be appealing to recruits.”

Fostering recruits’ dreams of joining the elite history of Georgia Tech Baseball — or just making them aware of it — was paramount. That’s why Teixeira’s name and image abounds, as does that of three-time All-American and 12-year Major Leaguer Matt Wieters, whose name is attached to the Video Analysis Room, and countless other All-Americans and Major Leaguers. There’s also the “Legends of Omaha” exhibit outside, saluting Tech’s 1994, 2002 and 2006 College World Series teams, and the “Legacy of Leaders,” featuring head coaches from John Heisman through Hall.

“We wanted people to know who played here before, that we have this rich history of these phenomenal players — Mark and Nomar (Garciaparra), Jason (Varitek), many, many others, (Matt) Wieters and (Charlie) Blackmon,” said Stansbury. “You could come to the stadium and not know that they played here. But now you know.”

Now it’s a matter of getting the best recruits to know then developing them into the best baseball player they can be while also adhering to Rice’s Total Person Program.

“Not everybody is a Mark Teixeira. We want them to be, we’re going to work hard to try to develop that talent, but probably 98 percent of the guys that attend Georgia Tech need their Georgia Tech degree to be successful at whatever they decide they’re going to do after baseball,” said Hall. “So to be able to sell a beautiful facility, a good program that develops players — and we pride ourselves on developing those players — but also tell them the value of a Georgia Tech degree, it’s unmatched, that’s the vision that we had when we started looking at what we want to create here.”

“We needed a place for our kids to get better and we needed to win the Georgia Tech way — analytics, science, technology,” Stansbury said. “This is just the evolution. It started with Russ Chandler. Russ was there when Homer Rice needed somebody to make baseball a priority and got this thing up and running, but we don’t get here without ‘Mac’ Nease.”

Be they recruits or current student-athletes, the map for success is clear.

“I was at practice a couple of days ago and I told (the players) how lucky they were,” Teixeira said. “As soon as you walk in here, you realize — whether it’s the Biochemical Engineering building or Scheller College of Business, or the Mac Nease Baseball Park — you have everything you need to succeed and there’s no excuses. Georgia Tech is a blue-collar, smart-kids school. We’re smart and we’re athletic but we work our tails off. When you go into those facilities, you understand these kids now have everything they need to succeed.”

“When Russ made the contribution (first in 1985) that was a major upgrade. It was so much better than what we had. Then this, another major upgrade. I’m just happy to be a part of it,” said Nease. “Danny’s built a great program, the kids do a great job. They’re great ambassadors for the school. They are prepared to play a pro professional life. Georgia Tech does that. It’s fun to support that because not everything you support turns out exactly the way you’d like it to. This has been a home run in a lot of ways.”

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