ATHENS – Jim Callis covered the Georgia Bulldogs’ baseball team for The Red & Black student newspaper while attending UGA in the 1980s. He has been covering pro baseball for and Baseball America since graduating from the Grady School of Journalism in 1988. His area of expertise is scouting and the draft.

So, imagine Callis’ surprise when a tall, lanky redshirt freshman surfaced at his alma mater last year slugging home runs at a record pace.

“I started calling area scouts and was saying, ‘why hasn’t anybody brought this guy up?’” said Callis, now based in Chicago as a senior writer for “In a given year, I usually have 20 to 30 (state of) Georgia players on my radar. They’re not all going to get drafted, but you keep them on your radar and follow them. I’d never heard of Charlie Condon. Nobody brought him up. Last year, I’m asking guys, ‘how’d this happen? Where’d this guy come from?’”

Well, he comes from Marietta. And, when it comes to baseball people who overlooked Condon, Callis can take his place in a long, long line.

Even those who regularly admired his talents up close for years did not forecast Condon becoming college baseball’s home run king, as he is now, or the No. 1 pick in Major League Baseball draft, as he is expected to become in July.

“We’re just as surprised as everybody else,” said Josh Lammert, who coached Condon in baseball and football at the Walker School, a small private school off Cobb Parkway. “Charlie was a late bloomer, physically, maturity, all that. But you saw glimpses of it.”

Even Georgia missed on him, to some extent. The Bulldogs brought Condon to UGA as a preferred walk-on, with no aid promised beyond the Hope Scholarship. Before that, Condon thought he was going to have to accept a Division III offer to play both football and baseball. He was actually a pretty good quarterback on some bad teams at Walker.

But baseball was Condon’s passion and he was an excellent student. So, he jumped at the UGA opportunity when it finally came. Three years later, Condon is the biggest name in amateur baseball.

“We’ve reflected on it,” said Jim Condon, an Atlanta industrial real estate executive known to Charlie as “Dad.” “It was probably a perfect storm the way things evolved. Charlie grew late like a lot of kids; he was young for his class. He played football in the fall. In hindsight we realize a lot of baseball recruiting goes on in the fall. ... And then COVID came along his junior year and that’s probably the biggest story.”

The pandemic not only prevented a lot of scouts and recruiters from getting a look at Condon, it also resulted in college upperclassmen getting another year of eligibility. Then-Georgia coach Scott Stricklin promised all his roster spots, accordingly.

Once the Bulldogs got Condon on campus, they thought he needed to add strength for the SEC grind. At the time, Condon stood 6-foot-5 and was generously listed at 195 pounds.

“He had bat speed; you could see that,” Stricklin said. “But he needed to get stronger.”

Condon didn’t necessarily agree, but he dedicated himself to getting better.

“There was nothing guaranteed,” Condon said. “I had belief in myself. I knew that I had done the work to put myself in a situation to succeed in a league with this caliber of players. So, that’s kind of what got me locked in, knowing that I’m not going to just roll over and let one year decide my entire collegiate career and just be a redshirt guy that never really got off the bench. Just not letting one year define me was the main motivating factor for me.”

Condon made the most of that year. He beefed up to 216 pounds before the next season. He also made strides on the diamond that summer playing in the Northwoods League in the upper Midwest and Canada. By the end of it, he not only was named a league All-Star, he won MVP honors with two home runs in the all-star game.

“In hindsight, that was terrific,” Jim Condon said. “He grew a ton in the Northwoods. He played in 68 or 70 games, had 320 or something plate appearances. It was like baseball boot camp, and it was really good for him.”

By the time the cuffs came off at Georgia, the Bulldogs knew they had someone special on their hands. Condon opened the 2023 season starting in left field and batting cleanup. He hit his first home run in the first inning of the fourth game against Princeton, a two-run shot over the left-field trees at Foley Field.

Little did Georgia fans know at the time how familiar that scene would become. Condon would hit 24 more homers that season and, after batting .386 and driving in 67 runs, was a consensus choice as National Freshman of the Year.

Fast forward to this year and Condon hit the 56th, 57th and 58th home runs of his career in a series sweep of No. 13-ranked Vanderbilt this past weekend. He hit is 59th against South Carolina. That extended his homer streak to eight consecutive games and gave Condon an NCAA-leading 34 round-trippers for the season, a UGA record.

The NCAA’s single-season record of 48 homers set by Oklahoma State’s Pete Incaviglia in 1985 is considered safe due to changes in equipment and teams now playing fewer games. But at this point, nobody’s counting out Condon. His season and career home run totals shattered the previous records held by the great Gordon Beckham, who did it in 197 games over three seasons. Condon has played 103 games at Georgia.

“Yeah, I don’t know if that will ever fully sink in, to be honest,” Condon said of his home run tear. “But, you know, it’s a rewarding feeling to know that the work I’ve put in for the last three years and where I was as a senior in high school has really started to click. And just the fact it’s able to benefit a program with guys that work so hard every day, I’m just glad to be able to help out.”

Now ranked No. 14 by Baseball America, the Bulldogs (35-12, 13-11 SEC) head to Columbia, South Carolina, to take on a 16th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks’ team with the same conference record. After that three-game set, all that remains is the regular-season finale against Florida May 16-18, the SEC Tournament and whatever the Bulldogs can make out of what’s expected to be an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Winners of five straight games, Georgia could host a regional if it stays hot. But Number 24 has become the major attraction. The Bulldogs’ three games against Vanderbilt this past weekend all were sellouts, and the crowd quietens and sometimes stands when Condon comes to bat.

“We can still do anything we want to do this season,” said Condon, who “If we can finish on a hot streak, we’ve still got a real good chance of bringing a regional to us. That’s something this program hasn’t done in a little while.”

Sixteen years, in fact. Georgia hasn’t made it to Omaha since 2008, when it was runner-up.

For the Condon family -- which includes his mother Rebecca, older brother Matt and sister Sarah -- it has been a wonderful ride. You’ll find Mom and Dad at every game, home and away. At Foley Field, they sit with the other UGA parents in the second level above the Bulldogs’ dugout.

“We know this is all going to be over very soon,” Jim Condon said. “That’s the most exciting thing. It’s just so fun to see the team be competitive and be playing for something, to get into the tournament with the potential to host and playing their best baseball late, it’s just been a lot of fun to see that team come together.”

Meanwhile, things are heating behind the scenes. Callis and have him going No. 1 to the Cleveland Guardians. That’s the consensus among draft projections.

LSU pitcher Paul Skenes, last year’s No. 1 selection, received a record $9.2 million signing bonus from the Pittsburgh Pirates. That life-changing date -- July 14 -- was closing in fast on Condon as he boarded the Bulldogs’ bus bound for Columbia on Wednesday.

To this point, the family has largely ignored that. They retained Brandon O’Hearn of Vaynor Sports as an adviser after Condon’s summer in the Northwoods League to monitor the pro prospects and insist they haven’t explored the possibilities in detail yet.

Condon even has remained relatively disengaged from NIL opportunities as well. As ever, he has opted to remain sharply focused on those two pieces of red-stitched rawhide.

“I’ve been around some special players, obviously, and I’ve never seen anybody handle it off the field as gracefully as he has this year,” said Georgia coach Wes Johnson, who was Skenes’ pitching coach at LSU last year. “What he’s done is just unbelievable. I haven’t seen anything like it.”

Nobody has. This will be the 37th baseball draft that Callis has chronicled. He doesn’t remember a consensus No. 1 prospect coming out of nowhere quite the way Condon did.

“I was talking a team the other day that picks pretty high in the draft, and we were talking about how improbable it is for a potential No. 1 pick be that ‘unrecruited’ and ‘unregarded’ and redshirting as a freshman and all that,” Callis said of Condon this week. “I went back and checked and he played in 58 Perfect Game events in the Marietta area, where there are a million of them. How did somebody not see him?”

Scouts were around. One of Condon’s teammates, Gino Groover, signed with North Carolina State out of high school and was drafted as a third baseman last year by Arizona Diamondbacks with the 48th pick. But like college baseball recruiters and everybody else who came through Marietta during that time, they simply didn’t see the potential in the tall, skinny two-sport athlete that he saw in himself.

“I told him last week, he has earned every bit of everything that’s coming his way,” Lammert said. “The amount of work he’s put in since he got to Georgia, his work ethic and discipline, it couldn’t happen to a better kid. He’s a tremendous character and leader in football and baseball. But I don’t think anyone who knew him in high school saw this coming.”

Whatever the future holds, Condon vows never to forget where he came from.

“I definitely owe a lot of credit to plenty of people,” he said. “My hitting coach back home, Zach Blonder of Pinnacle Prospects, really built my swing from the ground up. The development I had with 643 DP Athletics, travel ball, high school ball at Walker, all those things came together for me. It’s not an overnight, one-click thing where you wake up one day and you’re a different person.

“That’s the beauty of the game, just knowing you’ve got to show up and commit to your craft every day or it’s not going to pay off for you.”

For Charlie Condon, it’s about to pay off in a big way.

Charlie Condon (center) at his high school graduation from the Walker School with mother Rebecca, sister Sarah, brother Matt and father Jim.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Condon family

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Credit: Photo courtesy of the Condon family