The season is around the corner for the Georgia baseball team. The Bulldogs start the 2016 season against Georgia Southern on February 19th. Georgia is coming off a 26-28 record last year and are needing to replace several key players. The Bulldogs are depending on players like Robert Tyler and Stephen Wrenn to provide leadership to a roster filled with young players.
I caught with Sports Information Director Christopher Lakos to get the latest on the team and to discuss potential story ideas for my Grady Sports Media Class. Here is the transcript of our conversation.
Jaylon Thompson: I know we have some guys returning this year. One guy in particular is pitcher Heath Holder. What is something I can explore with him and take his story to a new level?
Christopher Lakos: I think in Heath’s case, he was a guy that came in here and they weren’t really sure whether he was going to be a pitcher, outfielder or an infielder. He was a very talented guy, but they weren’t sure where he would excel the best. He was kind of doing a little bit of everything. They actually experimented with him early in his career and made him a side-arm pitcher. In a lot of colleges there is usually one or two guys that throw side arm. He tried that and was okay but not great. Then we changed coaches and the new pitching coach thought he could be a pitcher that throws normally over the top. He still kind of played some first base, DH and messed around in the bullpen too. He didn’t throw a whole lot but that looked like it could be his future. He is a great team guy and one person who, when not in the lineup, is going to rally the guys. If he sees something he doesn’t like, he will be a leader and tell them to get a better attitude or whatnot. Early on you could see that was in his makeup.
(on elbow injury)
CL: Last year, the looked at his elbow because he said it was bothering him. They looked at his elbow and were like your elbow is torn up. He had a high pain tolerance and so they said we got to clean it up and fix it. So last year, he didn’t play at all and redshirted. Starting out this year, he looked great in the summer and the fall. Right now, he is projected to be in the starting rotation as our Sunday guy. His career will hopefully end on a high note as a pitcher. Yeah, I think that would be a good story about Heath.
JT: I didn’t even know about the side-arm. I think that would be a good thing to see what went into his surgery. Going from that to over-the-top puts a lot of stress on your shoulder. It would be interesting to see what impact that had on him?
CL: I don’t think it had that much to do with his injury. He did throw over-the-top but they wanted to see what he could do from the side. It was just a different way to throw. Just like a hitter changes his batting stance, it was just different.
JT: Do you know who I could potentially talk to that told him about his shoulder injury? Maybe a training staff member?
CL: Well, at some point they know and the student athlete knows. They get it checked out and they go in for a MRI. We can get with our athletic trainer, Shaun, and he can give you the nuts and bolts of the surgery and the recovery time. A lot of times, the trainer will talk in generalizations in order to protect the student athlete. But, I’m sure he can give you some insight to it. He was worked with guys that had the surgery and knows what it takes to get back to where the athlete wants to be.
JT: Yeah, that is basically what I want from it. I would like to know what it takes from the recovery standpoint and things like that. I think I would build it off the injury and make it more personal. I would probably start it with the injury and then get into how he had a long road from not having a position to being a starter in his final year. Maybe he will have a story where he was depressed and he could expound on it.
CL: I think that it would be a great profile looking at his career arc.
JT: Cool, cool! Another story that I wanted to explore was a trend story on Georgia athletes going to the MLB. I know that Gordon Beckham went to Georgia and was drafted into the league. So, do you have any ideas on how to make a good story out of it?
CL: I would probably start with the head coach, Coach Stricklin. This is his third year and although he didn’t coach Gordon, this is his 12 year as a coach. He has developed players as they come in whether at Georgia or like at Kent State where he was before. Unlike any other sport, the high school seniors have a decision to make if they are pretty good. Will they go pro or go to college for three years. I think Coach Stricklin can talk about the development and to start with there. If you want to speak specifically about Gordon, his college coach is David Perno that is from Athens. He actually is still here as he is the head football coach at Clarke Central. He is another great person to talk to. He can tell you all about Gordon and he recruited him. He wasn’t a high baseball player and he wasn’t drafted coming out of high school. So I think that he can be a big help.
JT: Great! I know that Georgia has a lot of players that are from an hour away and I was wondering how do they get players to commit to Georgia for three years instead of going pro after one year? I would definitely see how that would effect everything. You are taking a kid that is 18 and making him into a player. So I would like to know that process?
CL: Coach Daley has that title but all the coaches have a hand in recruiting. We can get you with Scott as well.
JT: I like the idea of Gordon Beckham. I could probably localize that one and make a good story.
CL: Yeah, depending on your deadline, you could contact the Braves and maybe they can set up a phone interview with Gordon later in the year. They have people in their media office like me that can set up something. I’m sure they can set something up to talk with him.
JT: That would be cool. I would definitely love to do that. Going to the wildcard story, College baseball has gotten rid of the pitch clock.
CL: They still have it. I think they were considering to change it to 30 seconds. I will have to look it up.
JT: Okay cool. I would love to do a story on that. I know I’m going to have to do a lot of research on it, but I would love to see the comparison from before they had it to now? I guess I would look at the essential stats and see how they changed.
CL: I’ll tell you that from the outside looking in, everything that you said sounds like issues. However, if you ask the coaches, they say that there really wasn’t an issue at all. They rarely changed anything and its one of those things, in all honesty, was effected it nearly as much as people thought. I think you will hear that from the pitchers. If anything, I would say its a cosmetic thing. I can tell you since they put the pitch clock in, there hasn’t been one episode. It’s a different way to look at it. It is still a story but not something that you were thinking.
JT: If I didn’t do that one, do you know of one story off the top of your head that would be great to do?
CL: I would say what was done at Foley Field. Basically, it was a renovation project/ revival as we call it, that was done in a year. Within a year, they were able to raise money and did a 12 million dollar renovation. Just about every school in the SEC has done a renovation. You could talk to the players about the new class rooms, the lounges and the other parts of the facilities. You could also talk with the coaches about how the field has changed from when they got here to now. The coaches can talk about how it helps recruiting. Everyone is different but I think the s scene is a big part as well. Everyone thinks that bigger is better. Our stadium holds only 3000 people and it’s not like the stadiums at LSU. They have 10,000. Every stadium has its pros and cons. We have been there since 1990 and this is the second year since the renovation.
JT: I like that idea. I can probably look at attendance records and see how it impacts the fans, players and coaches. I could look at how the close and intimate stadium and how it allows fans to be the 10th man on the field. So basically, I could see how it makes the team unique and not like other stadiums. I could look at like you said at the changes of Foley Field.
CL: We have the seats behind home plate like a professional stadium. Most places don’t have that.
JT: Yeah, that is great. Could you possibly give me the numbers and names on who was over the entire facility process?
CL: There were several people that were involved in the process. But our Athletic Director approves all decisions. There was a project manager that oversaw everything from start to finish, but he since retired. However, coach Stricklin was involved the whole way. He sat in on the meetings. I sat in on the meetings from the press box. We can talk to coach about the baseball side of it. I can get you get in contact with the sales people about the new luxuries.
JT: That’s cool and I like that idea. It’s a 1500 word story but if I can attack it from that point of view it gives me an idea. Cool got my three stories I know I can do. I think I can do all three of these stories easily
JT: As far as info and audio graphics— I could probably do something on concussions and bats?
CL: I would probably do something on home runs. Concussions is not really an issue in baseball as it is in football. But the home runs is nice because they tweaked the bat a couple years ago. They tweaked the ball last year and you see the decline of the home run and the return of it. A couple of years ago, we hit 100 home runs. Then they tweaked the ball and we hit like 40. The next year afterwards, they tweaked the bat and we hit like 13. So, they tweaked the ball again to make it harder. So, you can maybe tweak the home run chart and measure the home run totals. Another thing you can look at is to compare the strikeouts and the home runs. You could do one on home runs and one on strikeouts.
JT: I like that one. I really think I could do that as my infographic. I think for my video or photographic I could maybe take photos before the game.
CL: Yeah, or another thing you could do is work with the grounds crew. I could get you in contact with them to see whether you could work with them at a game. You would be out there to get video of them lining the field, watering it and getting the field ready. People go to the game but doesn’t know what goes into preparation before the game. You could get a GoPro of something like that. Another thing you could do is do the fan experience. Go get a coke and popcorn and enjoy the game.
Questions on Freshman
JT: What is something new on a few key freshmen? Like freshman LJ Talley?
CL: LJ is a guy that has shown he can hit and field at different positions. He provided good competition for the guys coming back to those spots. LJ has shown he can handle the bat and play in the field. The same thing at first base, Daniel Nicholas is a good bat and adequate at first base. The two freshman are in a platoon situation. I think early in the season, a lot of players will get a shot and we will see what happen. You got to see how they hold up. Freshmen aren’t used to playing 50 to 60 games.