Sept. 11, 2010
By Jon Cooper
The summer of 2010 provided Matt Skole with the kinds of memories that are going to make great stories to tell his kids and grandkids someday.
There was his last-minute selection to a home run derby featuring the top college sluggers in the country, his runner-up finish in it, and his being the last hitter in a baseball landmark.
The junior third baseman’s first opportunity to try out his storytelling to a group of kids — specifically Georgia Tech’s freshmen and sophomores — as well as to his peers, began last week and will continue over the next three weeks, as the team conducts fall practice at Russ Chandler Stadium.
For those who can’t get to the Rusty C to ask him or don’t want to wait for his memoir or future generations, here’s his memorable summer in a nutshell.
Skole, who was in the hole as the season-ending out was made in Tech’s 10-8 loss to Alabama in the Atlanta Regional, was in Massachusetts playing with the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League, when he got a call seeking his participation in the inaugural TD AMERITRADE College Home Run Derby at Rosenblatt Stadium.
“It was a great event to be asked to attend,” he said. “They flew me out from the Cape. I got to go to Rosenblatt, and hit in there. There were about 6,000, 7,000 people at the stadium. It was on national television. I met a lot of good guys and just had a lot of fun. I had a blast.”
He also delivered a bunch of them. With Tech Assistant Coach Bryan Prince serving up pitches, and Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Mike Schmidt around to offer advice, Skole, led the group of eight after the first round. He ran out of gas in the second round, however, as East Tennessee State University first baseman Paul Hoilman pulled away to win. Coincidentally, Holiman’s pitcher was Matt’s uncle, Tony, the head coach at ETSU.
There were no hard feelings. Only hard-hit baseballs, as Matt not only hit some of the longest homers of the competition (“I don’t know,” he said with a laugh. “There wasn’t a tape measure or anything, but there were some far ones hit. I got into a couple.”), he also took the final swings at Rosenblatt Stadium, which was closing its doors after 62 years.
“It was super-special,” he said. “They actually announced that I was the last hitter that will ever hit in Rosenblatt Stadium. So it was really special for me. I’d never been there and it was just a great atmosphere.”
Skole is looking forward to a similarly great atmosphere at the fall practices, where there are plenty of youngsters and plenty of questions in regards to the 2011 team, after the 2010 squad saw a school-record 10 players drafted in Major League Baseball’s June Draft.
How those questions are answered, and by whom, add intrigue to the practices.
“We’ve got a bunch of new guys,” said Skole, a First-Team All-ACC selection in 2010 and the returning leader in homers (20) and RBIs (63). “It will be interesting to see how everybody comes out.”
Although 17 lettermen return from last year’s squad, Skole and second baseman Jacob Esch, are the only returning every day position players, while lefty Jed Bradley and righty Mark Pope are the only returnees from last year’s rotation.
The fall will be a time for experimentation, with Skole is expecting to see time behind the plate, as the catcher position is wide open, following the drafting of Cole Leonida.
“Nobody has a set position right now,” said Skole, who caught the only four games that Leonida didn’t last season. “We’re going to have to have guys play positions that they didn’t play in high school. You have to experiment with guys.
“We’re going to put some guys behind the plate, and we’re going to have to put some guys in the outfield that probably aren’t used to it,” he continued. “But a month of practice in the fall and individuals working with coaches gives you time to get used to it. Any way they can contribute they need to work hard at it. Once spring comes around we’ll know what’s going on.”
Skole also plans to work hard and contribute as a team leader. His goal is to follow the example set by past upperclassmen, like Tony Plagman, who Skole recalled took him under his wing during his freshman year.
“I got a lot out of every senior leader,” he said. “Now I know what I need to do as a leader to help these young guys out.
“We lost a lot of good guys, a lot of leaders the guys followed the last few years,” he said. “But I’m going to step up this year and be a leader on this team. That’s what I need to do. I feel like the guys will follow me and get on board by working hard. If I can get all 45 guys working hard then we’re going to have a great fall and a great spring.”