SOUTH BEND, Ind. – We’re now a day away from Georgia’s kickoff against Notre Dame. So much still to get to. Time to clear the notebook of perishable items.
Let’s get straight to it:
Ever-diligent Vince Dooley
Vince Dooley’s former players often marvel at their old coach’s penchant for preparation through repetition. They would joke about how many times in practice they would run and rerun a play, even those of the “emergency” variety.
For instance, every practice would include some time for the “fire drill.” That is what they called it when the holder got a bad snap on a placement kick and yelled “fire” so those in front of him would know they’re now aborting the kick and executing a pass instead.
So it will come as no surprise to Dooley’s men that the coach has been intensely preparing in advance of his ceremonial first pitch before the Chicago Cubs’ game Friday night at Wrigley Field. In fact, he enlisted a former Georgia football manager to practice the pitch with him over the last three weeks.
Brandon McEachern sells real estate in Athens for Keller Williams nowadays, but he was a team manager under Ray Goff and Jim Donnan when he was a UGA student in the 1990s. He was a pretty good high school baseball player before that.
McEachern has maintained a relationship with Dooley since but was surprised when he got a call from the legendary coach and athletic director three weeks ago.
“He said, ‘I need to get ready to make this pitch. Can you come to the house at 8 tomorrow morning?’”
McEachern said he actually had a conflict. But, of course, he moved things around. And he has been practicing with Dooley “a couple times a week” since then.
Dooley is determined, McEachern said. He bounced the ball to the plate the last time he was asked to throw a ceremonial pitch before an Atlanta Braves game in the early 2000s. This time he wants to throw a strike. And despite turning 85 earlier this week, he intends to deliver his pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches. From the top of the mound, not in front of it.
McEachern expects Coach to deliver a strike.
“I took him over the Foley Field for the last [workout],” he said. “The last 10 he threw from the rubber, I’d say eight of them were strikes. I don’t know what he’ll do in Chicago, but he’s been winging ’em in practice. He’s throwing a four-seam fastball and letting it fly high.”
The hope is that Dooley’s pitch is received by former UGA baseball player Justin Grimm. He’s a pitcher with the Cubs but often finds himself as designated catcher for ceremonial first pitches.
McEachern plans to be there as well, along with Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin, who oversaw some of the work.
Distance doesn’t deter this Dog
Georgia fans are coming to South Bend, Ind., from all over for the game Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. It’s doubtful any of them are coming from farther away than Mark Parkman.
Parkman is a 1987 UGA graduate. Today, he’s the general manager of the Olympic Channel and calls Madrid, Spain, home. He and his 15-year-old son, Alex Parkman, were flying out of Madrid, which is seven hours ahead, on Friday and were due to arrive in Chicago about 2 p.m. local time.
“I’m coming specifically for the game,” said Parkman, who originally hails from Carrollton, Ga. “When it got onto the schedule, I was living in Atlanta. I just said right away, ‘I’m gonna go to that one.’ Then I moved over here. But I knew I still needed to make this happen. So we’re coming.”
Unlike a lot of UGA fans, Parkman and his son were glad the start time of the Cubs game was moved to nighttime. They originally weren’t going to arrive in Chicago in time to see Dooley’s pitch. They also plan to watch the Atlanta Falcons play the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. They’ll have to leave before the end of it, however, as they have to make a 5 p.m. flight for the return to Madrid.
Parkman has some rather important business to attend to Monday. In Lima, Peru.
The IOC is announcing the 2024 and ’28 host cities.
So why not just fly from Chicago to Lima?
“I’ve got to get my 15-year-old back to school in Madrid,” Parkman said with a laugh. “But it’s all worth it to us.”
Super fans do ‘Superfecta’
When betting on horse racing, one of the best payoffs comes from hitting a trifecta, in which a person successfully predicts the first three finishers in a race in the correct order. There’s an even bigger payday coming for people who hit on a superfecta, in which they forecast the top four.
Well, a superfecta of sports watching is what a select few Georgia fans are attempting around the Notre Dame game this weekend. That is, they’re not only attending the Bulldogs’ game against the Fighting Irish in South Bend on Saturday, but they’re also going to a Chicago White Sox game, a Chicago Cubs game and the Chicago Bears game on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field.
Jeff Pierce and his buddies are among those super fans doing the superfecta this weekend. They attended the White Sox game Thursday night in Chicago and will be among the thousands of UGA fans at Wrigley Friday night.
“There weren’t as many Georgia fans there as I thought there might be,” said Pierce, a pharmacist from Bishop, Ga., just outside of Athens. “There were only like 9,000 there last night. The White Sox aren’t doing very good this year. So we bought $20 tickets and moved to better seats.”
Pierce and his cousin, Greg Vannier, travel every year to sports venues all over the country, along with their friends Bruce Beaulieu, Rob White and Ryan White. Primarily they are Georgia fans and follow the Bulldogs wherever they go.
“I’m already planning for L.A. in 2025,” said Pierce, referring to the Bulldogs’ game versus UCLA in Los Angeles.
But the Notre Dame game holds special significance for this tight-knit group. Pierce knew right away it would be an opportunity to take the sports trip of a lifetime.
“As soon as the game was scheduled we’ve been setting this up,” Pierce said. “We knew right away we were going, and it was beautiful how it set up. I was stalking the Major League Baseball schedules that came out earlier this year. First I checked the Cubs and I said, ‘Great, they’re in town Friday.’ Then I thought I’d check the White Sox, too. I was, like, ‘Wow, they’re in town, too.’ So I decided not to schedule my plane fight until the NFL schedules came out, thinking maybe we can catch a Bears game. When I saw the Falcons were playing the Bears, it was late at night but I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.
“It’s like a dream trip. I can’t think of another combination where you could possibly do something like this. The only thing that would make it better would be if the Braves were playing the Cubs. But this is a dream trip for us. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
No stopping this family
Many other Georgia fans had also planned to attempt the “superfecta.” But a lot of their plans got scrambled after the Cubs moved their Friday game from an afternoon start to night. A lot of folks were going to go to the White Sox’ night game afterward. But with Dooley throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley, most of them scrapped the ChiSox game.
“Unfortunately we’re just looking at doing three now,” said Kyle Ankerich, an Athens native and UGA graduate who now lives in St. Louis. “But I’ve been dead set on going to Notre Dame ever since they announced it.”
So set on doing this are Ankerich and his wife Natalie that they’re not going to let a little thing like having a newborn stop them. Their 3-month-old son, Weldon Ankerich, will accompany them and three friends to every event.
“We bought some little headphones for him, some ear protection,” said Ankerich, a software salesman. “We’re just crazy I guess.”