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Fun-spirited Georgia team hopes to have message for first-timers

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs06/08/24


ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia Baseball is fighting for a spot in the College World Series this weekend, but the Bulldogs are taking the same approach to their best-of-three set against NC State as they have the entire season: hang loose.

It’s a mentality Wes Johnson and his coaching staff have tried to get across the their guys in year one together. Yes, there’s a serious nature to the stage they’re on, but they’re still playing the game they grew up on as kids. It was meant to be fun then, and it’s meant to be fun now.

Look no further than the way Georgia celebrates home runs. Midseason, a dog mask started showing up in the UGA dugout after the Bulldogs hit a long ball. The player who just sent one over the wall gets back to his teammates and is greeted with a plastic german shepherd mask to put on and parade down the dugout. They dance and cheer before getting back to baseball, but for those few moments, nothing matters more than letting out the emotion midgame.

“Oh, we could have a whole segment on that,” Johnson joked when asked about the home run mask on Friday. “The guys just wanted a prop in the dugout, right? I said, ‘Hey, when did we become the German Shepherds? I thought we were Bulldogs.'”

“The guys have fun with it. I want our guys to have fun,” he added. “We have enough, you know, serious things in life we have to deal with on a daily basis. Yeah, that’s the dog mask. It’s a product of the guys came up with it. I let them come up with it. I just laughed when I saw the german shepherd mask.”

Senior captain Corey Collins has worn the mask about as much as anybody. Hitting 19 home runs on the season – second only to NCAA leader Charlie Condon and his 36 – Collins has been no stranger to ‘feeding the trees’ of Foley Field. He told reporters relief pitcher Brandt Pancer was the one who came up with the idea and bought the mask on Amazon. Since then, the guys have fallen in love with it – maybe a little bit too much.

Collins and Condon said they were surprised the thing doesn’t stink too much on the inside given the number of times Georgia’s worn it this season, hitting a school-record 145 home runs this season. The more and more it’s gotten used though, Condon said, ‘you kind of put it on to do it’s purpose and then take it off pretty quickly.’ Collins added, ‘People can’t see out of it anyway,’ to which Condon said, ‘It’s dangerous.’

All in all, the mask is meant to be fun, and that’s what Johnson and Georgia hope fans can come away seeing in their team this weekend. The Bulldogs play an excited brand of baseball – hitting home runs and lighting up the scoreboard. They want first-timers to come away seeing not only that but also the fun they have together.

“We’re electric. We have fun. We go out there and we let it hang loose. We’re a relaxed team, but we’re really focused. I think that’s what we do pitch in and pitch out,” Collins said. “… I think that that’s the biggest thing Wes tells us all the time. He’s like, ‘You shouldn’t be nervous or ancy about what’s going to happen. You should be able to go out there, have fun and let everything loose and be happy with it.’ If we can believe in ourselves and go out there and let everything loose and have fun with the brothers on this team, the scoreboard will take care of itself, win, lose or draw.”

“We just love playing baseball,” Johnson added. “We enjoy it, we have a lot of fun. Hopefully they see we never really panic, no matter what is going on, good or bad. We just keep playing the game and have fun doing it.”

First pitch between Georgia and NC State is set for 12:00 p.m. ET on Saturday. Game two of the series will also get started at noon – both airing on ESPNU – with details of an winner-take-all Monday finale to be announced if necessary.

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