He’s a player. Then again, that should come as no surprise considering Cale basically grew up inside the Bulldogs’ dugout.
No, the real shocker here is that Scott Stricklin is getting to see his son play. That’s always been a challenge considering Stricklin is paid very well to pour most his focus and energy into the coaching the Georgia Bulldogs’ program. That, of course, means 60 games a year, not including fall ball and who knows how many practices from October to June. In other words, all of baseball season.
But it has actually worked out well for Dad this year. In fact, better than most college-baseball-coaching fathers.
NCAA rules have yet to open up for in-person recruiting evaluations by coaches because of COVID-19 restrictions. But while that applies to Scott Stricklin the coach, it doesn’t to Cale Stricklin’s father.
“So I am allowed to go watch my son play,” Stricklin said before the Bulldogs’ practiced Thursday at Foley Field. “… It’s been fun for me because I’ve been able to watch him a lot this year. With their schedule, they’re playing Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays, and Monday’s normally our off day, and Wednesday we normally don’t have a game. So, I’ve been able to see a lot of Monday/Wednesday games.”
That means he’s been able to see a lot of good baseball. North Oconee is a powerhouse baseball program. The Titans (24-4, 15-2 Region 8-4A) just recently fell from No. 1 to No. 2 in the Class 4A rankings, according to MaxPreps, and remain one of the favorites to win the 2021 GHSA state championship. They’ll wrap up the regular season Friday night against Madison County as region champions.
As usual, the North Oconee roster is stacked with college prospects. But as Georgia’s coach, Stricklin is not allowed to talk to the players or interact with them in any way. He usually sits with his wife, Cheri, on the back row of aluminum bleachers next to the Titans’ dugout on the third-base side and quietly takes in the game.
“I’ve had other coaches rip me a bit,” Stricklin said with a laugh. “They watch live streams of games and, every once in a while, I’ll get a text, ‘Hey, I see you in the background there.’ But, you know, I don’t have to close my eyes when the other guys are hitting or pitching. I’m allowed to watch the game.”
One of those likely came from a Clemson coach. Bubba Chandler, the top baseball prospect in the state, plays for North Oconee. Chandler had been a Georgia baseball commitment until Clemson’s Dabo Swinney came in with a football offer for the 6-foot-4, 195-pound quarterback with the 97-mph fastball.
Chandler is the highest-profile prospect in a program that produced Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker and Georgia pitcher Will Pearson. The Titans feature several other college prospects on their roster, including junior left-hander Andrew Arnold and pitcher/outfielder Gavin Black. Lasley estimated he has 10 or 12 college-bound baseball players.
He includes Cale Stricklin in that number.
“Absolutely,” Lasley said of Cale, who’s hitting .310 with a .440 on-base percentage and 21 RBIs. “The thing that separates Cale is his overall knowledge of the game. He understands nuances that a lot of kids don’t understand until they’re a senior in high school or in college. His freshman year, he comes in and we’re going over situations in the locker room. You know, ‘What do you do with one out and the ball’s hit here.’ I finally had to say, ‘OK, everybody but Cale can answer.’ You assume that’s from growing up in his dad’s dugout.”
This is photo of lifelong catcher Scott Stricklin (R) working with his son Cale in a drill on the wall of Foley Field after a Georgia baseball practice a few years ago. (Family photo)
Indeed, it’s at Georgia where Scott and Cale Stricklin have done most of their baseball work together. When he wasn’t at school or his own baseball games, Cale could usually be found at Foley Field. If time permitted before or after practice, Scott Stricklin could be like every other dad and hit his kid grounders or throw him some BP.
It’s on the art of catching that they’ve spent most of their time. Scott Stricklin caught at Kent State and was a respected receiver in the minor-league ranks for five years after college.
“Him being a catcher and me being a catcher, we talk a lot about that,” said Stricklin, who also has two daughters. “But I’m just a dad. I sit in the stands, and I actually don’t say a word. I don’t yell at umpires, which is kind of a break for me. I really don’t say much and just try to kind of blend in. You know, it’s kind of nice.”