Cale Stricklin, North Oconee High School’s senior catcher, is set to lead the defending 4A state champions into the Final Four after they posted two wins over Whitewater last Saturday in Bogart, Georgia.
Stricklin has committed to Georgia, where his father is the baseball coach. He has helped North Oconee to a 30-4 record the year after the Titans posted a GHSA-record 39 wins en route to a state championship.
Here, Stricklin discusses being in the dugout at Foley Field, growing up as the Bulldogs’ bat boy and his plans for his baseball future in Athens.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Q: How did you come to enjoy playing baseball?
A: My dad (Scott Stricklin) obviously wanted me to have a ball and bat in my hand when I was little. I really took up with it, but he kind of let me do my own thing. I really found a love for the game when he tried to coach me and help me become the best player I can be. So, I guess it was kind of mutual on both sides.
Q: Since you started playing baseball, was the vision always to play for your father at some point in your career?
A: I mean, I always thought about it, but I didn’t really know how good I was going to be or how I would translate to be the player I am now. I just wanted to play at a high level, whether it be (junior college), Division II, Division I, just make it to college baseball to play at another level.
Q: How much of an influence did your commitment to Georgia play into (North Oconee teammate) Wyatt Land’s commitment?
A: I think obviously that might have been one of the reasons why he committed, because we’re really good friends. He was hurt last season and didn’t really pitch a lot for us last year, but he really blew up last summer. When he committed (June 16, 2022) he really had his stuff going, he was up to 93 (miles per hour) off the mound and throwing everything for a strike. Everyone was looking at him and I guess he wanted to stay close to home. I mean, he’s my roommate, (laughing) so he has to deal with me for another four years.
Q: How comfortable are you catching behind the plate when Land is on the mound?
A: I mean, it’s definitely a lot more comfortable because I’ve been catching him (Land) for a while now. I know what he wants to throw in certain counts. When I call a pitch, he can shake me off because I trust him and he trusts me. It’s kind of like a mutual respect. (But) when we go to Georgia next year, we’ll have something there already.
Q: What aspect of your game do you think you need to improve upon?
A: Probably more of my hit tools. I’m confident in my hitting now, but I view myself more as a defensive catcher. I take pride in being behind the dish and blocking balls. (But) with hitting, I feel like I can get some more power, control my bat, and just be more consistent.
Q: Since committing to Georgia, have you been in touch with any current players or commits?
A: Yeah, we have a group chat between all the (2023) commits and we talk pretty much on a daily basis. I go to games when I can and build relationships with the current players. I’m pretty close with them since I grew up being in the dugout. I’ve been around them for a while.
Q: How excited are you to learn from veteran catchers Corey Collins and Fernando Gonzalez?
A: I’m very excited because they are both exceptional catchers. Their work and what I see them doing, I can learn a lot from them. Just being around them I feel like I can be a better person and a better catcher, just because those two dudes are stellar guys on and off the field.
Q: How often were you in the clubhouse and around Georgia players growing up?
A: I remember when I was younger, I would always go there (Foley Field) and be a bat boy. I would always joke around with the players and get to know them. It’s been kind of weird since I’ve gotten older and I’m getting closer and closer to playing there, and actually playing with those guys. It’s really cool that I’ll be in that dugout next year, as a teammate instead of just a kid.
Q: What kind of impact are you looking to make as a freshman in your first year in the program?
A: Anything just to help out the team. I feel like I can do something to help Georgia get better….I don’t know what my role is going to be, but I’m going to do my very best and (do) everything I can to help the team out.
Q: What are some long-term goals that you hope to achieve individually or as a team when you play for Georgia?
A: Eventually start and be the guy there. I want to earn my spot, show everyone that I can play at that level and just prove everyone wrong.
Bryce Mandala is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.