Regular readers of Dawg Sports already are familiar with Richard Schrade, who has taken a sabbatical to hike the Appalachian Trail. Richard’s son, also named Richard Schrade, is a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology and he serves as the play-by-play man for Georgia Tech baseball on WREK 91.1 FM. Through the assistance of the younger Schrade, I was able to conduct an e-mail interview with Kyle Tait, the WREK sports director, previewing Tuesday night’s matchup in Atlanta between the Diamond Dogs and their in-state rivals. Here is our exchange:
Dawg Sports: Chase Burnette leads the Yellow Jackets with a .462 batting average, Tony Plagman tops the team with five home runs, and Cole Leonida is tied for first in slugging percentage among everyday players. Of which of these hitters should the Bulldogs be most wary, or is there a secret weapon lurking in the Georgia Tech lineup?
Kyle Tait: The three guys you mentioned are huge to the offense, but what makes the Jackets so good nationally is that they have a multitude of guys who can step up and hit well on any given day. Burnette's been great, finding holes and ripping the occasional home run. Solid contact often breeds good power, and Chase has been a great surprise for the Jackets after non-regular playing time last season. As for Plagman, he's hitting as well as expected, with six home runs through Sunday's game against Wake Forest. He's started out the season on a tear and should continue to hit well and raise his draft stock throughout the season. And you can't forget Leonida--he sat behind Jason Haniger last year behind the plate, but got a lot of playing time in the DH role because they wanted his bat in the order. Now with regular catching time, he's been solid both offensively and defensively.
But beyond that, the Jackets have a huge number of other weapons in their order. Center fielder Jeff Rowland at the top has great raw talent. He's had a tough time getting on base early in the year, but he could break out of the early season slump at any time. His strikeout totals are bound to go down soon enough. Another guy that can really step up is Matt Skole, Tech's third baseman--his decision-making at the plate could improve, but when he puts a bat on the ball, it goes a long way. You also can't forget Jacob Esch, who was batting upwards of .450 coming into the weekend. Not much power from the former relief pitcher, but he's been great getting on base and getting hits in clutch situation with runners in scoring position. He's third on the team in RBIs.
Those guys may not get as much publicity as Burnette, Plagman and Leonida, but they're just as key to the Jackets' great offense.
Dawg Sports: The Yellow Jackets have opened the season with a 13-1 run to earn a top five ranking and eleven of their wins have come at home. How important is home field advantage to Georgia Tech’s success?
Kyle Tait: I'm not one to buy into the idea of home field advantage as a key factor in baseball. The Jackets have played Missouri State, Xavier, Rutgers, and Wake Forest. Of the four teams, Missouri State and Xavier are predicted to be at or near the top of their respective conferences (Missouri Valley Conference and Atlantic 10), but the caliber of play of those two conferences just can't compare to the caliber of the ACC. Tech overpowered both of them, with the exception of the one Sunday game which Xavier won by a run-- and Tech really beat themselves in that game with four errors.
As for Rutgers (Big East) and Wake Forest (ACC), both are predicted to be mid- to bottom-of-the-pack in their conferences. As the Jackets get further into tougher ACC opponents, we'll see how much home-field-advantage is a factor. I sure hope it doesn't play a role though, as Tech has tough road series later in the year at North Carolina and at Virginia, two top-15 conference opponents.
Dawg Sports: The in-state rivals are scheduled to meet for midweek contests at Georgia Tech on March 16, at Georgia on April 14, and at Turner Field on April 27, but there has been talk of arranging a three-game weekend set between the two teams. Should the series be moved to a weekend so it can feature both squads’ regular starting pitching rotation or kept on the weekdays?
Kyle Tait: To my knowledge, the decision to have three scattered weekday games has a few motivating factors. For one, attendance is a big issue with a weekend series--more people are going to be willing to come to single games scattered through the year than they will be to spend an entire weekend at a three-game series. In addition, the ACC and SEC have plenty of big weekend series within conference. To add another big series between Tech and UGA takes away from the easy, "off-"weekend series against easier out-of-conference squads early in the year.
That being said, in terms of competition, I do like the idea of a three-game set over the weekend, as we'd see the best pitchers and players on the mound for both teams. It's certainly doable--one big in-state rivalry nearby, Clemson and South Carolina, already has a home-and-away-and-neutral three-game series at the start of the year. For competition, it's a great idea, but I highly doubt it will actually happen anytime soon. There are a lot of factors to consider, both monetarily and administratively, and it would take a huge push from both parties to make it happen. It's just easier with the three games scattered through the season.
My thanks go out to both Richard Schrades, and especially to Kyle Tait, for making this interview possible on short notice. While I have a bad feeling about the Diamond Dogs’ prospects for pulling off the victory over the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta tomorrow night, I had a bad feeling about Georgia’s chances against Georgia Tech at the Flats in the fall, too, and that turned out all right.