Mark Teixeira will remember Georgia Tech jersey retirement ‘as long as I’m alive’

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Mark Teixeira wore No. 23 in homage to the favorite player of his boyhood, Yankees great Don Mattingly. Teixeira did honorably by the jersey number himself, to the point that Georgia Tech will pay Teixeira the ultimate honor on Saturday by retiring it.

He will be the third player in Tech’s illustrious baseball history (following Jason Varitek and Jim Luck, who was a Tech football and baseball player before becoming baseball coach) to receive the honor. The ceremony will take place before the Yellow Jackets’ noon game against Virginia at Russ Chandler Stadium in the final regular-season game of the year.

“It means a lot,” Teixeira said Thursday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There’s a lot of people that want to recognize you during your career, and you’re one of maybe 100 or 200 in a group, but this is definitely a much rarer honor, and I don’t take that lightly.”

Credit: Georgia Tech

Credit: Georgia Tech

On the field, Teixeira was a legitimate all-time Tech legend. As a sophomore third baseman in 2000, he was named the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy as college player of the year and ACC player of the year, leading the Jackets to the conference regular-season and tournament championships.

“And on top of that, he was also an academic All-American,” coach Danny Hall said. “He lived it and breathed it for the three years that he was here.”

Teixeira and Varitek are the only two players in team history to be named national player of the year. After an injury-shortened junior season in 2001, he was picked fifth overall in that year’s draft and embarked on a 14-year major-league career in which he was a three-time All-Star, a three-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award, won five Gold Gloves as a first baseman and helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series championship. His 409 career home runs rank fifth most by a switch-hitter.

Teixeira said that jersey retirement always was in the back of his mind as an honor he sought. Tech has been dear to him – he has remained close with Hall, has helped with fundraising projects and in recent years has joined the boards of the athletic association and the Georgia Tech Foundation. For his contributions, Tech’s locker room is named in his honor.

“And to be able to have a place, as long as Georgia Tech is around, as long as they’re playing baseball, to be able to have a special place inside the program, that’s something that is pretty cool and something that I’ll always remember as long as I’m alive,” he said. “Having that No. 23 jersey hanging up at Russ Chandler Stadium and in my house, as well, wherever I decide to put up that jersey.”

It will be an honor well-earned. Tech’s athletic association holds specific requirements for jersey retirement, notably a bachelor’s degree from the institute (one reason why greats such as Kenny Anderson and Calvin Johnson can’t be presently considered).

In 2021, Teixeira returned to school to earn his remaining 41 credit hours. While he had earned tens of millions of dollars in his playing career, had become a successful real-estate investor and also is married with three children, Teixeira made time to finish his remaining three semesters, tangling with computer science and finance classes to earn his business administration degree in May 2022.

“When I decided to come back to school, I kind of gave coach Hall the heads-up and said, ‘Hey, you know what this means,’” Teixeira said.

“I think it’s a big reason he came back,” Hall said. “It means a lot to him.”

Teixeira clearly means a lot to Hall, well beyond his performance on the field. Hall said that he has never met anyone who cares as much about Tech as Teixeira.

Since leaving, “he has always done anything and everything that he could to make sure that our baseball program was still good,” Hall said. “And I would just say, different than a lot of guys, particularly in his situation, to this day he cares about our baseball program, he cares about football, he cares about basketball, he cares about the whole athletic department and he cares about the school. I just don’t think you see that anywhere, of someone of his stature. That’s just how I would say it. And so I just feel very blessed that I got to coach him and watch him perform for three years.”

Somewhat ironically, the No. 23 that Teixeira wore across his back with the Jackets was not the one that he came to be identified with in the major leagues. Teixeira wore it with his first big-league club, the Texas Rangers, but changed to No. 24 when he was traded to the Braves and then bumped up to No. 25 when he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels and signed with the Yankees. Teixeira simply took what was available.

“I was never a guy that wanted to steal a number or buy a number from a player,” he said. “I’ve always thought that’s kind of weird.”

No one, though, will ever wear No. 23 again for the Jackets. Right fielder Stephen Reid has worn it with distinction for the past four years – he was hitting .352 for the season going into the Jackets’ Friday night game against Virginia – and then it will be put away forever.

Jersey retirements are not common occurrences at Tech. Teixeira is the 11th former Tech athlete to receive the honor – six in men’s basketball, three in baseball and one each in football and volleyball. The most recent was volleyball great Kele Eveland in 2005.

The celebration for Teixeira arrives at the end of an academic year marked by change within the athletic department with changes in leadership of the athletic department and the football and men’s basketball programs. Teixeira has witnessed the developments up close as a member of the GTAA board. Teixeira, in fact, was one of two alumni whom AD J Batt thanked at coach Brent Key’s introductory news conference for their help with the search. Teixeira and Key are close friends from their time together as Tech athletes.

“When I was in school 20 years ago, we were humming,” Teixeira said. “We were winning a whole bunch of football games, winning basketball games. We were only a couple years away from going to a Final Four. And the last two decades haven’t been as kind to Georgia Tech, especially in basketball and football. So to see the change in leadership with J coming in, so excited about his vision. And then the love that Brent has for Georgia Tech and the excitement that Damon (Stoudamire) brings, the future is bright at Georgia Tech, and I’m excited to be a small part of it.”

On Saturday, recognition of his rather large part in its past will be cemented forever.