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Loran Smith: Give Scott Stricklin time, he’ll get UGA going

The first decision Scott Stricklin made after signing on to become Georgia’s baseball coach was to give his snow blower to his brother, Jim.

Last week, he thought he might need to reclaim his old equipment as Ohio-like weather gripped Athens for a few days, as he prepared for the season opener.

By first pitch Saturday, Foley Field was sparkling in sunshine with a blanket of snow on what was once the banks of Kudzu Hill.

Foley never looked better with World Series–style bunting draped around the field with all areas of the stadium neat, tidy and clean — almost mint condition.

You could see Stricklin’s touch everywhere.

Stricklin is first and foremost a coach who knows what is priority. He knows his primary concern is fielding a championship-competitive team. One that can succeed in the Southeastern Conference, which he considers the best conference in the country.

Not to be overlooked, however, is his attention to detail and his sensitivities for multiple off-the-field activity. He has reached out to the community, creating rapport that will sell tickets and bring about commitment to the program.

He joined a coffee club that includes former players Lamar Lewis, Spratt Bullock, Ted Deiter and one of Georgia’s most distinguished baseball players, Charley Trippi, who would have made it in the big leagues but chose a career in football.

With the season coming into view, Stricklin promoted a banquet that attracted more 350 supporters with Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, the keynoter. The evening, like everything Sticklin has orchestrated, was first class in every respect.

With an athletic director who has moved post-haste to bring about improvements to Foley Field (a $12 million expansion will begin after this season ends), Stricklin sees Greg McGarity as a partner, not just a boss. McGarity sees in Stricklin someone who will begin each season thinking about the postseaason and one who has the capability of bringing Omaha consistently into focus.

Stricklin has an entrenched baseball mentality.

His childhood and teenage days in Athens, Ohio, were as American and apple pie as they come. His parents, Dave and Brenda, were school teachers with a homework-first requirement.

That still left plenty of time for Scott and Jim and the down-the-street Corrigan brothers, Dave and Corey, to play football, basketball, hockey and baseball. It didn’t take Stricklin long to realize that his 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame was best suited for baseball, where he excelled well enough to receive a scholarship to Kent State. That evolved into six years of professional baseball before he segued into a coaching career.

His Kent State teams weren’t the most talented, but became regulars in the NCAA tournament.

Stricklin will recruit kids who appreciate fundamentals such as hitting and running and taking the extra base.

If you have a love and commitment for the game, that bodes well with the coach, who remembers driving with his parents as a kid three and a half hours to see the “Big Red Machine” play in Cincinnati.

He can tick off the names of the starting lineup like he were the Riverfront P.A. announcer: Bench, Perez, Morgan, Conception, Foster, Griffey, Geronimo, and Pete Rose. Charlie Hustle was his favorite player.

Though Rose would fall on hard times for his foolish behavior, his style of play remains indelible in Sticklin’s mind. You play with Pete’s attitude and hustle — that becomes a formula for success.

Soon after the first pitch of the first game in the series, it was obvious that Georgia Southern’s Sam Howard was in control.

Pitching is baseball’s most telling criteria. Georgia didn’t have it against Georgia Southern, but McGarity’s decision to give Stricklin his “dream job” opportunity is likely to bring big dividends to Bulldog baseball.

Give him time, and Stricklin will develop his own “Big Red Machine.”

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald.

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