CHICAGO — The roar started before Vince Dooley had been announced. Then came the chants. For a few moments, Wrigley Field sounded like a Georgia football game.
Dooley’s escort for the Cubs would tell him later that he had “never heard anything like that.” You had to remember this was Wrigley Field, not Sanford Stadium.
“I’m used to hearing ‘UGA,’ ” Dooley said. “But he had never heard it before, as long as he’s been here.”
It was a grand moment in what has basically become a UGA holiday weekend in this area. As Georgia prepares to play Notre Dame on Saturday night, Bulldogs fans have descended on the area, many making a weekend of it. Dooley, the coach the last time the Bulldogs played the Fighting Irish, was invited to throw out the ceremonial pitch before the Cubs game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday. And it became the focal point for a Bulldogs takeover of one of baseball’s great stadiums.
Even before the game, red and black shirts and jackets dotted the stands. They rose to their feet and started cheering as Dooley made his way to the mound. They cheered as he one-hopped it — pretty good for an 85-year-old, by the way.
And then the chants began: “UGA! UGA! UGA!” Some called the Dawgs, too.
“Seeing the reaction to Coach Dooley’s first pitch was amazing,” said one of the seemingly thousand Georgia fans in the stands, Mark Fox, Georgia’s men’s basketball coach. “It’s great to have some fun with all of the Dawg fans. And we will all be more focused tomorrow in South Bend.”
Fox wasn’t the only current Georgia coach in the stands.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin, who has two former players from Kent State who play for the Brewers. “I knew we would travel really well. But this has been unbelievable when you see nothing but red and black all over Chicago.”
So, it was only appropriate that the Chicago Cubs player who caught Dooley’s pitch was also a Georgia boy: Justin Grimm, the former Bulldogs pitcher.
Grimm and Dooley caught up for a few minutes before and after the pitch, and Dooley also conversed with Cubs manager Joe Maddon, congratulating Maddon on joining the championship club. (This writer’s words, not Dooley’s.) After the ceremony, Dooley was taken to a suite to spend a minute with Cubs legend Billy Williams, who was inducted into the Mobile (Ala.) Sports Hall of Fame with Dooley in 1989.
Oh, and the actual pitch? It was over the plate, even if it bounced a couple feet before it. Dooley did throw from the mound. (You can see a video of the pitch here.)
“Everybody has excuses; I never had a chance to warm up,” Dooley said, smiling. “Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have bounced it in there. But it went over the plate!”
Brandon McEachern, the former UGA baseball student manager who worked as Dooley’s pitching coach the last few weeks, was on hand with his wife Heather. Truthfully, McEachern could be proud, as the crowd roared and Dooley pumped his fist after the throw. There have been some forgetful first pitches over the years, and this was not one of them.
Either way Stricklin said beforehand that Dooley had a built-in excuse. It would be perfectly normal and acceptable to be nervous.
“I’ve thrown out one first pitch in my life, and it was a Little League game. I was terrified,” Stricklin said.
Asked if he was nervous, Dooley said, “a little bit.” It had been awhile since he was between the lines, doing something competitive in front of a huge crowd.
This was harder, though, than coaching, Dooley said.
“I used to always just put people out there,” Dooley said. “Herschel [Walker], go give him the ball. Not me get the ball!”
After the ceremony, Dooley was escorted up the bleachers, and as he walked up, numerous Georgia fans clapped and shouted out his name and “UGA! UGA!”
Dooley was asked: With all these Georgia fans, if that many of them make it inside Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night, will it help the Bulldogs win the game?
He paused and thought a moment.
“Everybody that can get in is going to get in. There’s going to be a heck of a lot them outside, too,” Dooley said. “But yeah, they’re everywhere.”