For years, Georgia Southern Baseball’s annual ‘Evening with the All-Stars’ has been held in January as a sort of two-minute warning for a rapidly approaching regular season. At the Nessmith-Lane Center on Friday night, the event saw its largest turnout to date as a sellout crowd welcomed the 2018 Eagles, a quintet of ‘Wall of Fame’ honorees and 18-year MLB veteran Fred McGriff.
The Evening with the All-Stars has often featured former Atlanta Braves and McGriff kept with the trend, having played five seasons with the home state club. Many guests appeared with the Braves - such as freshly-minted Hall of Famer Chipper Jones - after coming up through the club’s farm system.
McGriff was already an established veteran and all-star by the time he was traded to Atlanta. Many remember his debut due to a fire that broke out in the Fulton County Stadium press box prior to his first game, but McGriff provided more details that make that night even more unbelievable.
“I had been hit by a pitch right before being traded and had bad ribs,” McGriff said. “(Former Braves general manager John) Schuerholz told me that I couldn’t show up with bad ribs, so I rested a few days in Tampa.
“When I headed to Atlanta, I made sure to leave at noon so I wouldn’t get to the stadium until 6 p.m. I figured there was no way they could put me in the lineup if I showed up so late, but there I was. Luckily, that fire bought me a couple extra hours. I played with the sore ribs and hit a home run, so I guess God was doing me a favor with those extra two hours.”
The five-time All-Star and member of the 1995 World Series champion Braves squad with 493 career home runs didn’t talk much about his stats or greatest moments, instead focusing on more personal moments. He spoke of how his childhood in Tampa - right in the middle of spring training headquarters for many clubs - spurred his love of baseball. He talked about how special it was for him to end his career back where it started when he joined the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998.
And he even recounted the endless grief he’s received for nearly a quarter century as the spokesman for the ‘Tom Emanski Defensive Drills Video’ commercial that is undoubtedly burned into the memory of any baseball fan who grew up in the nineties.
McGriff kept the crowd laughing with one liners about his two-strike approach advice for the Eagles, “Don’t strike out,” his thoughts on facing Randy Johnson, “I hope he doesn’t hit me,” and playing on winning Braves teams with pitchers who enjoyed their downtime, “When you’re winning, no one cares if you bring golf clubs on a road trip. They call it chemistry.”
Prior to McGriff’s sit-down with Georgia Southern play-by-play man Danny Reed, five former Eagle baseball players were recognized as part of the team’s Wall of Fame. Jason Cadenhead (1999-2003), Greg Dowling (2003-06), Matt Herring (2000-02), Eric Phillips (2009-12) and Everett Teaford (2004-06) all excited Eagle fans during their time on the diamond at J.I. Clements Stadium and now they’ll be officially recognized as some of the best to ever wear Blue and White.
Georgia Southern begins its 2018 season on the road as the Eagles head up to Athens for a three-game series against Georgia, Feb. 16-18.