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#TGW: No Place Like Back Home

Sept. 6, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– It was almost impossible to ignore the presence of Georgia Tech baseball last week at Turner Field.

Over a 10-day stretch (Aug. 24 through Sept. 2), former Yellow Jackets Mark Teixeira (1999-2001), Charlie Blackmon (2008), and Derek Dietrich (2008-10) came to Atlanta with their major league teams — the Colorado Rockies, New York Yankees and Miami Marlins — to take on the Braves.

It was a unique showcase that speaks volumes about the Jackets’ program and head coach Danny Hall.

“I’m really proud of the Georgia Tech baseball program, the players that have come out of there and what we’ve accomplished,” said the 35-year-old Teixeira, a 13-year veteran and a 2015 American League All-Star for the Yankees. “I give Danny Hall a lot of credit. It’s great to see.”

“We’ve got so many good players in professional baseball,” said Blackmon, 29, a 2014 National League All-Star, who is in his fifth major league season and second full season manning center field for the Rockies. “It’s just a testament to how good the Georgia Tech baseball program has been.”

Dietrich, 26, in his third season with the Marlins, beamed with pride in talking about his alma mater and its tradition.

“Georgia Tech has a great baseball program. A lot of good major leaguers, some great ones and some guys up-and-coming,” he said. “[Teixeira and Blackmon] are guys I’ve looked up to. Charlie was my roommate my freshman year at Tech. He’s having a great season and Teixeira’s Teixeira, always having a good year. It’s great for Georgia Tech baseball.”

The Jackets’ alumni had a great homestand from a team standpoint, as the Rockies, Yankees and Marlins combined to 8-1 in the homestand, winning the final eight games.

Individually, Blackmon had the most eventful series. He batted .286 (4-for-18), in the three games, with a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored, one in each game. In the opener, the North Gwinnett High School product hit the fourth pitch of the game into the seats in right field for his 15th homer of the season. He’d later be central to an eighth-inning rally, which fell short, as he was thrown out at the plate in the 5-3 loss.

The next night, he batted third for the first time in his pro career, as injury forced All-Star Carlos Gonzalez to take a night off. He finished 1-for-5, with the one hit was a first-inning single, fueling a two-run inning. He also scored the second run, which turned out to be the game-winner in the 5-1 Rockies win.

“I’ve hit leadoff for the last thousand at-bats or so, so it was quite a difference for me,” said Blackmon, who is at the top among National League lead-off hitters with 52 RBIs and 15 home runs and who has stolen a career-high 35 bases. “It’s good and bad. It’s good in the sense that you don’t have to be the first guy up there, and you don’t feel like you have to take a bunch of pitches. On the other hand, when there are runners on base, you are expected to get them in. It was cool to get the opportunity to hit third. I wish I had done a little more with runners on base, but maybe there will be another opportunity some time.”

Back in the leadoff spot for the finale, Charlie again went 1-for-5, but, again, was integral in the decisive rally, a four-run, seventh inning as Colorado overcame a 3-0 deficit in its 6-3 win. Blackmon’s infield hit to deep short drove in the second run, and he would score the final run of the frame one hitter later, providing the game-winning run for the second straight night.

Injury deprived Teixeira of an opportunity to show off Tech fans at Turner Field, as he was sidelined with a deep bone bruise on his right shin. ‘Tex’ was having a vintage season, making his third career All-Star Game appearance and first since 2009, and blasting 30 homers with 79 RBIs in 111 games. It was his ninth 30-homer season and first since 2011.

“I’ve been so healthy up until this point, and I think the numbers and the production has shown what I can do when I’m healthy and strong,” he said. “Hopefully this is just a bump in the road and I can get back quickly.”

The series, which saw the Yankees outscore the Braves 38-11, will be Teixeira’s final visit to Turner Field, where he played as a Brave over parts of 2007 and 2008, as the Braves will be moving to SunTrust Park beginning in 2017. Bt it won’t be his final visit to Atlanta.

“I try to go and visit the team when I’m at Tech and run into guys sometimes in the off-season working out,” he said. “You try to share any kind of information that you can and impart any knowledge necessary.”

Dietrich, who plans to be back at Turner Field next season with division-rival Miami, was 0-for-4 in the one game he played, but enjoyed the series, which saw the Marlins sweep the Braves and leapfrog them into third place in the N.L. East.

Like Blackmon, Dietrich showed Tech fans a new part of his game, implemented in 2015. Dietrich, a two-time All-American shortstop and 2008 National Freshman of the Year in his three years on the Flats, played left field, a position which has become his since July 26.

“Coming up primarily as a shortstop then playing second base at the major league level and third base, making that transition to the outfield, has actually gone a lot smoother than I initially thought it would, having never played out there,” he said. “With Brett Butler’s help and talking with the other fellow outfielders, it’s been good for me. I think it helps add to my versatility and get my bat in the lineup.”

He also gives credit to former Tech roommate, Blackmon.

“I texted him months ago. Just asking him if he had any pointers,” Dietrich recalled. “He said basically the fundamentals — catch the ball, hit the cut-off man, keep it in front of you. That’s what you have to do. Do whatever you can to track the ball down and hit the cut-off. Obviously, there are other fundamentals and things you have to work on but it’s been a pretty smooth transition. I’m getting better every day.”

Dietrich’s scorching bat has been important to the Marlins, who have played most of the season without superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Since July 8, Dietrich has batted .287, with a .383 on-base percentage, and a .918 OPS (on-base percentage and slugging), 10th in the N.L. He had a monster August, batting .253, with a .346 on-base percentage and .829 OPS, with six doubles, four homers, 42 total bases, 15 RBIs, a career-best month, and 15 runs scored. On Aug. 5 against the New York Mets, he became the first Marlin to record two hits in the ninth inning and only the second to record two hits in an inning twice in a season. Defensively, Dietrich has fielded .966 in left, with only two errors in 59 chances in 31 games (30 starts) beginning play Sept. 5.

While baseball as their livelihood, all three still keep an eye on the gridiron and No. 16 Georgia Tech.

“I’m excited about this year,” said Blackmon, who said he is planning on attending some games. “I think they’re going to have a great year. We’ve got [Justin] Thomas returning as the quarterback and we’re talking about the defense and the fact that we need to get some new B-Backs. We had a great season [last year] and I expect that we should be just as good or better this year.”

“Getting that ranking, that’s awesome,” said Dietrich. “Paul Johnson’s done a great job. He’s always had a great program. It will be fun to watch. I always keep them up there in my updates and I’ll be following them this year.”

Teixeira expects to be a busy in October, helping the Yankees battle for a World Series, but he’ll still have an eye on Tech football.

“I’m very excited, especially after last season. We just had an incredible year,” he said. “They were so much fun to watch at the end of the season — that Georgia game, the Orange Bowl victory. It was just a lot of fun watching the team and I’m looking forward to this year.”

Teixeira will be counting on the Jackets to supply him with ammo for the ACC fans in the Yankees clubhouse.

“[Pitchers] Adam Warren and Andrew Miller are North Carolina guys, ‘A-Rod’ is a Miami guy,” he said, adding with a laugh, “So there’s definitely some trash talk going on.”

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