June 1st, 2019 is a day that the Georgia Tech baseball program would unquestionably like to forget, but it is also one that is important to remember.
For shortstop Luke Waddell, it’s a day that brings back memories that are both remarkable yet haunting at the same time. The 3rd ranked Yellow Jackets had been awarded NCAA Tournament hosting rights for the first time since 2011, and fans flocked to Russ Chandler Stadium en masse.
“Those crowds for that regional game, it just makes you want to get there.” Waddell said.
To the dismay of the junior infielder and Yellow Jackets fans alike, the opportunity to advance beyond that opening weekend of the tournament slipped away from their grasp. Possessing a 5-2 lead over Auburn heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers mounted a 4 run rally, culminating with a 3-run walk-off home run from outfielder Stephen Williams to win the game 6-5.
The very next day, a 4-1 Auburn victory eliminated Georgia Tech from the NCAA Tournament.
While the home run to shift momentum in favor of Auburn was not given up by Waddell himself, he still bears personal responsibility. A routine ground ball to start the inning was bobbled by Waddell, with the error allowing the Tigers to begin their rally towards victory.
“I’ve thought about it a lot over the summer,” he said.
Memories of the error add to a list of items that have motivated him ahead of the start of the 2020 season. A draft eligible sophomore, he was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in round 32 of the 2019 MLB Draft, but opted to come back to The Flats for his junior season.
More notably, he also made the cut for the 2019 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team during the offseason. His batting average of .320 was the third highest on the team, and it came against some of the best international collegiate players in the world. His time with the CNT also allowed him to further work on his leadership abilities
“It was a great experience,” Waddell said. “I learned a lot from [Coach Dan McDonnell] about leadership. I want to try and bring some of that here as well.”
If he didn’t have enough of a fire underneath him, it was undoubtedly further amplified by head coach Danny Hall. Included in the workout plan for the first official day of practice last month was a picture of Stephen Williams about to complete his trip around the bases.
Hall said it struck a nerve with most guys on the team, and understandably so. As you can imagine, Waddell had a more profound reaction to seeing it than most others did.
“I see that picture and think “It’s a terrible picture”. I hate that picture”
However the painful memories of that costly error and what transpired afterwards are quickly supplanted by more positive and reinforcing ones.
“But then I think about hosting that regional, and you want to host a regional again,” he said.
One thing is certain. For better or for worse, the vocal defensive leader of the clubhouse is certainly not lacking any motivation to elevate the Yellow Jackets back into the national conversation. While he admittedly wants to take the process slowly and approach it from a game-by-game standpoint, he didn’t shy away from stating their ultimate goal.
“Our goal is Omaha.”
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