Georgia Southern baseball head coach Rodney Hennon said senior infielder Eric Phillips does not have a single tool that stands out.
He doesn’t hit for power. He doesn’t possess blazing speed. There is no sizzle surrounding Phillips, just substance.
Phillips is the most versatile baseball player Hennon said he has coached during his 13 years at GSU.
And Hennon is convinced that the humble country boy from Carrollton, the kid who loves Tim McGraw songs, hunting, fishing and the Atlanta Braves, can play baseball professionally.
"Consistency is a great word to describe Eric," Hennon said. "He’s been very consistent throughout his career here. He’s a baseball player. We get caught up in tools nowadays, and sometimes you can overlook guys because maybe a tool doesn’t just pop out at you, but a guy like Eric just knows how to play the game.
"He’s got a good feel for the game. He’s got good instincts. There’s a lot of things he can do on the field to help your team win ballgames besides just get hits."
It’s clear that Phillips holds a special place in Hennon’s heart because he’s a scrapper. He’s never been drafted by a major league team. He didn’t have many scholarship offers from NCAA Division I programs.
All he’s done is show up every day and work.
"I think guys like that, that don’t have the one tool, the guy that’s got that one tool, whether it be speed or whether it be power, or a guy that throws 93, 94, it’s easy to go pick those guys out. You’re going to see that. That’s the obvious," Hennon said. "When you don’t have that, but you just have that savvy and those instincts and that feel for the game, those are the guys you appreciate more because you have to see those guys time and time again.
"I think Eric’s chances are very good that he will get an opportunity (to play professionally) because a lot of guys have seen him throughout his career. There’s some interest there. He’s been a big part of our program, no question about it, for four years. And I think he’s gotten better as his career has gone on."
Phillips’ versatility is invaluable to GSU. He has played every position in the infield during his four seasons and hit virtually everywhere in the lineup. He leads the Eagles in batting average (.379), hits (61), runs batted in (41), doubles (15) and stolen bases (22).
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound co-captain has started in all 41 games this season. He is fourth on GSU’s career hits list with 307, four shy of tying former major leaguer Todd Greene (311) for third place.
Phillips had three hits in GSU’s 7-6 victory over Jacksonville (Fla.) University on April 11 and became the fifth Eagle to reach the 300-hit milestone, joining Alan Balcomb, Greg Dowling, Greene and Scott Henley (who holds the record with 326).
Phillips is fifth in career doubles (57) and seventh in stolen bases (66).
"He’s been a part of two (Southern Conference) championship teams in three years," Hennon said. "You can look at the stats. You can look at the numbers. But he’s been a big part of teams that have won championships. I think you want to remember the guy as a winner. There’s nothing I’d like more than to see him go out his senior year as a part of another championship team with the opportunity to go back to a regional."
Phillips said he inherited his athletic ability from his parents, Terry and Lisa. Terry ran track at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. Lisa Blackmon (now Phillips) was a star basketball player at West Georgia and is in the Wolves’ Hall of Fame.
"The first place I went after I was born was the softball field to watch my dad play," Phillips said. "And my mom, she coached from the time I was a little kid. I hear people telling me all the time they remember seeing me out hitting with a Wiffle Ball bat when I was 2 years old and shooting hoops when I was 3. I’ve always been around (sports). That’s how I was raised. I didn’t sit in front of the TV and play video games. I was always on a court or on a field."
Phillips, the eldest of three children, was a three-sport athlete at Carrollton High School, playing baseball, basketball and football. He broke his collar bone playing football as a freshman, sat out his sophomore and junior years to focus on baseball and basketball, but returned to football as a senior because the team needed a quarterback. As a senior in basketball, Phillips was the Carroll County Co-Player of the Year with Jae Crowder, who now is at Marquette and in March was named the Big East Conference’s Player of the Year.
"I learned how to discipline myself there," Phillips said of high school. "All that training has helped me here a lot. The coaches, they’ve pushed us, too. Coach (Hennon) harps on us all the time about ‘Consistency, consistency, consistency.’ That’s what we try to do every day."
Phillips said he did not receive many basketball scholarship offers from Division I schools, and he wanted to be a Division I athlete. GSU offered a baseball scholarship.
"I really like this college," Phillips said. "I like Coach Hennon and Coach (Mike) Tidick (an assistant). They’ve been great mentors for me. I just kind of decided to play baseball and, hopefully, I can take it to the next level after this one."
Phillips said Major League Baseball scouts have contacted him by telephone about drafting him in June. He hopes to work his way up through the minor leagues after this season.
"They’ve been pretty up front, saying I will get a chance to play as long as nothing drastic happens," he said. "That’s something I look forward to."
If Phillips is not drafted, he said he might play basketball at West Georgia.
"I know the coaches. They watched me play in high school," he said. "I would have a year of eligibility left for basketball. I could finish up my degree and start my master’s in teaching. If baseball falls through there’s always that option for me."
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.