Mr. Nasty drafted by Braves

When Josh Fields went all the way to Omaha last summer to try to help Georgia win its first baseball national title since 1990, it was something he had been thinking about for a long time.

NOTE: Josh Fields was featured in the Februray Edition of Dawg Post the Magazine. This is he story - republished as it was written that month...

But when the junior got to Nebraska, there was someone he couldn't stop thinking about: his grandfather. "I wish he could have been there to watch us last year – I thought about that a lot," he said. Fields' grandfather died in December of 2005, and what made it particularly difficult for Fields, who is a spiritual person, was that his late grandfather was the first of his four grandparents to pass away. "He came to watch me play a lot in 2005," said Fields. "I really wish that he could have been to see us last season. I wish he could have been there to see us scratch and claw through the Regionals, and to make it to the College World Series." When Josh Fields went all the way to Omaha last summer to try to help Georgia win its first baseball national title since 1990, it was something he had been thinking about for a long time. But when the junior got to Nebraska, there was someone he couldn't stop thinking about: his grandfather.

"I wish he could have been there to watch us last year – I thought about that a lot," he said.

Fields' grandfather died in December of 2005, and what made it particularly difficult for Fields, who is a spiritual person, was that his late grandfather was the first of his four grandparents to pass away.

"He came to watch me play a lot in 2005," said Fields. "I really wish that he could have been to see us last season. I wish he could have been there to see us scratch and claw through the Regionals, and to make it to the College World Series."

The heat-throwing closer was the Bulldogs' most dominant pitcher – a player they had to have to get to the CWS. And more often than not, the Bulldogs took the most difficult path to success in 2006.

After beating Sacred Heart in the first game of the 2006 Athens Regional, Georgia lost to Florida State 6-4. That meant Georgia was on the hot seat – they could not lose again.

From there the Dawgs were shoved into an elimination game with Jacksonville, but hit their way to a 15-8 win. Undefeated Florida State stood in the way of top-seeded Georgia getting out of the first round of the NCAAs.

Georgia, however, jumped on the Noles and beat them 7-1 on Saturday night to force a winner-take-all game on Sunday night. With Foley Field packed, the Bulldogs punched their ticket to the Super Regionals with a 3-2 win, thanks to a Joey Side home run and Fields' shutdown performance late in the game.

Georgia, after all, had become used to playing with their backs against the wall. The Bulldogs had never lost an elimination game at home, and Georgia continued that amazing run as the post-season went on.

Once-mighty South Carolina came to Athens for the Super Regional winless against the Bulldogs that season. The Gamecocks have been one of the best baseball programs nationally in the last decade, but had to best Virginia in Charlottesville to advance to play the Dawgs.

Carolina took the first game of the Super Regional 15-6, looking mighty once more when they blasted five consecutive home runs in the second inning. If the Bulldogs were going to make it back to Omaha they would have to turn their fortunes around – and fast.

"Those Regionals were tough. I got nervous the entire game. I couldn't watch," Fields admitted. "It was nerve-racking because we knew that if we lost one more game we were done."

Facing elimination for the eighth time in 2006, Georgia knocked off the cobwebs and pounded Carolina 11-5 to set up another elimination contest – this time the winner would go on to the CWS.

Georgia didn't take any chances in the deciding game against the Cocks. The Bulldogs had to wait until the sixth inning to get their first lead over Carolina at 4-3, but the Dawgs never looked back, racking up a huge lead before turning it over to Fields so he could punch their ticket to Omaha with an 11-6 victory.

The funny thing about Omaha is that when Fields dreamed of playing in Rosenblatt Stadium as a youngster, he dreamed in purple and gold – thinking of the LSU Tigers. At the time, in the early 1990s, mighty LSU was racking up SEC and national titles in dramatic fashion.

"When I was younger I always wanted to go to LSU because, at the time, they were the most dominant baseball program in the nation," he admitted. "But after a while, and growing up so close to campus, I knew that I didn't want to go anywhere but Georgia. I absolutely love Georgia and Athens – I didn't want to leave. I started to get to know the coaches and my future teammates, and everything started falling into place. I think it was the Lord's will."

There was a time, however, when Fields thought he was going to skip college baseball altogether. He was playing ball in high school and felt he was good enough to sign a contract to play in the minors.

"I was always going to the baseball cages when I was little to work on my hitting. I also did some long-throw when I was younger to strengthen my arm, but I was really always interested in being a hitter. In high school I was really turned on to being a hitter because I wanted to play every day. I didn't want to only throw once a week. I wanted to be an everyday player," explained Fields.

He got in the car and started traveling to show his skills off. Fields went to showcases as far away as the Midwest so that college and professional scouts could see him.

"At that time I wanted to sign a pro contract right out of high school," he said.

Soon, however, Fields decided to take a different route to baseball stardom.

"I still wanted to go in the major league draft, but in the end I started to sit back and think about it a little more. I thought that my best route was to go to Georgia."

It hit him – he was not developed enough to make a successful splash in the minor leagues.

"I wasn't physically or mentally ready to take the step to the pro level. The game is a lot faster and the players are a lot bigger. I knew I was not polished. Making that decision, knowing the way I was in high school, I wasn't ready. I was immature as far as the game was concerned. I needed to know more about the game to succeed."

That's when Fields decided it would be best for him to go to Georgia. He signed thinking he would play both in the field and on the mound, and he did that, but only for a short time.

"I got about 31 at-bats as a freshman, and I never got into the groove," he said. "I pitched well at times, but struggled too."

Pitching and hitting in the same season was proving too difficult – even for the talented Fields. He decided to think about his future during summer baseball up north.

"That summer I went to play ball in New Hampshire. Coach Perno and I had a few conversations on the phone that summer. Eventually I told him that I did not want to hit if I was only going to be a guy that was going at bat every now and then. I just wanted to pitch," Fields declared.

"By that time I knew I was headed to being a pitcher full time. I wanted to hit, but it was not something that was going to work out. I didn't resent it. I thought about it for a while, and I think it became pretty obvious. Coach Perno and I came to the same conclusion, and that really was it."

So the time had come for Fields: his sophomore season would be nothing but pitching. He said knowing his days at the plate were over gave him tremendous focus on throwing the ball.

"Then it was either pitching or nothing. The light came on and I knew that this was what I was supposed to do," he said. "Pitching only made it a lot easier for me."

He proved it was his destiny to pitch by powering through opponents in 2006 and leading Georgia back to the CWS with a school record-tying 15 saves. He posted a 3-2 mark and 1.80 ERA. In 35 appearances, Fields struck out 56 with only 11 walks in 50 innings pitched. At the conclusion of the 2006 season, he was named a second-team NCBWA All-American, and was a third team All-America selection by Baseball America, but it was not at all easy for him, he said.

"Good pitchers find a way to win when they are not feeling good," Fields explained. "Let's say you can't find the strike zone – you have to find ways to change something small. If you change something minute in the pitching motion, that could change some things. If you are not feeling your best you still have to find the way to keep the ball off the barrel of the bat."

As for the upcoming season, Fields said he was not sure what to expect, but that it seemed these Dawgs were destined for greatness, too.

"From what I have seen so far it looks more like 2006 around here than 2005," he pontificated.

Still, the Bulldogs will find out right where they stand at the start of the season when they host the team that ended their season last year – defending national champions Oregon State.

"Playing the defending national champs the first series of the year can tell us where we can go, but it's not the definitive ruling on us. I think it could show the potential we have, but there are a lot of young guys on the team this season. I think this season could be more of a rebuilding year, but then again, we are united in our season-long goals."

So the pitcher who had baseballs and gloves in his crib when he arrived home from the hospital two decades ago enters what appears to be his final season of amateur baseball. He hopes it is one that will make his grandfather proud.

What's it like being Mr. Nasty?

Josh Fields gives a little insight on what it's like to be Mr. Nasty

Guilty Pleasures

"I watch The Bachelor. I have to watch who I say that to, because a lot of people just give me a strange look when I tell them that. They really have some good-looking girls on that show. I had never seen it before the fall season this year. I was hanging out with Miles Star, our second baseman, when one of his roommates' friends called and said: ‘Hey, change it to this channel, there are really some good-looking girls on there!' From that moment on I was hooked. I set alarms on my cell phone to make sure I don't miss the show now."

Mexicali Grille

"There is something about that place that is so good. My roommate and I went there five times one week when we were freshmen."

Pre-game

"I try to keep my teammates upbeat. I try to cheer on the hitters and pitchers. I try to keep my mouth shut as far as the umpires are concerned – that's not my place."

Hotel Fun

"The number one thing we do in the hotel is play Halo on X-Box. One night last season about 15 guys on the team went to Foley Field – to our lounge – and played from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. We loved it so much. So when the season starts and we are in the hotels, we play Halo a lot."

Georgia's Greatest Pitchers

Charles Ed Morris – The ace pitcher of the 1886 team was Charles Ed Morris, who introduced the curve ball to the South. His catcher was his brother John, who for years headed Georgia's German department and was faculty chairman of athletics. Club teams were in existence at Georgia as early as 1867, according to Georgia historian E. Merton Coulter.

Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler – Pitched for the Bulldogs from 1929-32. Chandler went on to play for the New York Yankees from 1937-47. He was a part of seven World Series teams, including six that won championships. Chandler was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1943. Chandler's 1.64 ERA in 1943 was the lowest by any major league pitcher between 1920 and 1967, and remains a Yankees team record.

Derek Lilliquist – The sixth overall pick and the first by the Atlanta Braves in the 1987 MLB amateur draft, Lilliquist is one of only five Georgia players ever taken in the first round. Lilliquist was named National Pitcher of the Year in 1987.

Cris Carpenter – Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals as the 14th pick of the first round of that same 1987 MLB amateur draft, Carpenter made his major league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1988, and had an eight-year career in the big leagues including being a member of the Florida Marlins' inaugural team in 1993.

Mike Rebhan – A senior on the Bulldogs' 1990 national championship team, Rebhan twice battled and beat future major league star Mike Mussina to get the Bulldogs into position to win their only national title in school history.

Dave Fleming – Named an All-American in 1990, Fleming was a vital part of the Bulldogs' national title season. Fleming shut out Mississippi State in the opening game of the CWS 3-0. He had shut out State a few weeks before, which was the first time the powerful SEC program had been shutout in 177 games. But Fleming is most known for being the man to get the last out in Georgia's championship season. He retired eight of ten Oklahoma State batters to assure Georgia a 2-1 win.

Fields' Two Pitches

When you are as good at getting people out as Josh Fields is, you don't have to be real fancy about it. The Bulldog pitcher uses two pitches to shut the competition down.

The Four-Seam Fastball

"My fingers are going across the seams of the horseshoe. Because you are over the four seams, that means the ball is going to fly truer and straighter. Sometimes, if you throw it fast enough it will rise a little bit. I stay from low- to mid-90 miles (per hour) during those throws."

The Knuckle Curveball/Spike Curve

"On that pitch my index finger is on the ball between the narrow part of the seams. My middle finger is inside the wide seam on the horseshoe. The middle finger is pulling on the seam to get that 12-to-6 rotation on the ball so that it drops on the hitter. I threw a slider during summer league this summer, but when I got back my elbow was a little sore. The Georgia coaches wanted me to lay off that pitch and go to the curve."

Fields' Spectacular 2006

Not only did Fields have impressive numbers on the mound, his best performances seemed to come with the season on the line. Consider the following about Josh Fields in 2006:

Overall, 3-2 1.80 ERA with 15 saves in a team leading 35 appearances to help lead Georgia to the College World Series

In SEC action, Fields had 10 saves with a 0-2 mark and a 2.19 ER, and the SEC hit just .179 against him with 27 strikeouts and only four walks in 24.2 innings

Made two appearances at the College World Series (2 IP, 2H, 0R, 0BB, 3K)

15 saves tied a school record and led the SEC

35 appearances ranked third most in a single season by a Bulldog

Made two appearances vs. South Carolina in the NCAA Athens Super Regional, finishing games two and three

Made two appearances in the NCAA Athens Regional, earning his 15th save in the championship game over Florida State

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