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Trial Run

Feb. 13, 2010

by Jon Cooper, Associate Editor

ATLANTA — Roddy Jones has always been good at finding the gaps.

For most of his three years at Georgia Tech Jones has used that skill as an A-back on the football team. That skill may now come in handy in his newest pursuit.

Jones, who ran for 345 yards and three touchdowns for the ninth-ranked Yellow Jackets — he also was the star of Tech’s 45-42 victory at Georgia two seasons ago, running for 214 yards and two scores — is trying out for Tech’s sixth-ranked baseball team.

“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do ever since I got here,” he said. “I felt good physically so I just decided to do it. I guess now it just felt like the timing was right coming out of football season.”

Ironically, timing is the biggest challenge facing Jones heading, as he hasn’t played in two years.

“That is going to be the toughest thing and that’s just something that I have to work on,” said Jones, a right-handed hitting outfielder, who describes himself as a gap hitter. “It’s about seeing pitches, seeing live arms, seeing live pitching on a regular basis. The more I see it, the better I’ll get with the timing and start to square the ball up and hit it solid every time.

Tech baseball coach Danny Hall showed him just how tough getting that timing back could be, as in his first intrasquad scrimmage, he sent Jones up to face pre-season First Team All-Americans Deck McGuire and Kevin Jacob.

“We kind of told him, `Don’t worry about it. You’re facing two of the best pitchers in the country,'” recalled Hall. “He’s out there competing, we’re happy to have him out and well just see how quick he can get up to speed with his hitting.”

Jones enjoys the challenge.

“I want to be thrown in the fire and see what I can do, see where I stand,” he said. “As a competitor, you always want to go up against the best. Obviously, it was very tough. It’s tough for people who have done it for years, but having taken a couple of years off it’s tougher. But it was fun.”

A common baseball axiom regarding batting practice is you always want to “leave on a good [hit].” Jones did that in his final scrimmage last Sunday.

“I got a hanging breaking ball and ended up hitting it into the gap and just ran,” he recalled. “It was something that let me know that I can still do it, I can play at a high level. It’s just a matter of getting back into the groove, getting back into the swing, no pun intended.”

That may not take long, as Jones has the skill set to play professionally, having been drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 39th round of the 2007 June Amateur Draft after his senior season at Chamblee High. He turned them down. He also turned down Hall, who needed all of one look at Jones in a summer league game to decide he was a worthy of a baseball scholarship.

Despite his best sales pitch, Jones chose to come to Tech to play football, where he red-shirted his first season before playing the past two.Hall said he’d leave the door open.

Jones simply decided the time was right to walk in.

But football coach Paul Johnson isn’t just allowing his prized A-back to walk off the gridiron and into his field of dreams. Jones will still be required to attend spring practice. “Paul told him, ‘If that’s what you want to do, you can do it,'” said Hall. “He then told him, ‘Now if I come out there in April and you’re sitting on that pine, we might have to have another conversation.'”

Whether Jones can follow the lead of Kris Wilson, who came to Tech as a football player in 1995 but soon after switched to baseball and became a First-Team All-America pitcher who played pro baseball (Wilson also was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in November) is still to be seen. Jones isn’t concerned with that yet.

“I’m going out there and having fun,” he said. “I want to go out and contribute to the team in whatever way I can.”

Certainly, and not surprisingly, that will be with his legs.

“One thing that sticks out is how fast he is,” said Hall, who sees Jones at least filling the role of pinch-runner and a defensive replacement in protecting late leads. “When he did get on base, he stole second base in a heartbeat.”

Stealing bases is one skill Jones knows he hasn’t lost.

“That’s one of those things that you can stay out of baseball for 10 years and if you can run you can go out there and steal a base,” he said. “So that’s something that hasn’t really gone away. I’ve always been aggressive on the base paths. I have no problem trying to run and make people try to throw me out.”

Jones also knows to follow his football instincts when it comes to avoiding contact on the bases. So don’t expect him to try to run over anyone in his way, especially any catcher brave enough to block the plate when he comes barreling in.

“Those catchers are kind of big and they have equipment and I don’t,” he said with a laugh. “I’m only going to lower my shoulder if I actually have to.”

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