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Charlie Condon makes a familiar home run trot (UGA photo)

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Golden Spikes Spotlight: Patience, diligence transform former walk-on Charlie Condon into star

Golden Spikes Spotlight


“It’s work ethic, high-level character, and talent,” the coach said. “You put all those things together, and you get Charlie Condon.”

The coach making that statement should know. He coached Condon in 2022 and 2023. As the Georgia head baseball coach from 2014 to 2023, Scott Stricklin took a chance on a tall, thin two-sport athlete from Marietta, Ga., with no other D1 offers—not just SEC offers, mind you, but no interest north of Division III.

Lots of folks must be kicking themselves today.

That tall, skinny teen has made himself into one of the preeminent players in the sport and a top contender for the Golden Spikes Award. He’s created a buzz throughout college baseball and is on pace to break the Georgia career home run mark set by Gordon Beckham at 53. And Condon, who already has 49, would do it in just two seasons.

So, how did an unrecruited, slim young man turn into the player MLB clubs covet?

Let’s start with the beginning at The Walker School, a small private institution in suburban Atlanta near the amateur baseball Mecca of East Cobb.

As a star prep athlete, Condon planned to play football and baseball at Rhodes College. That was his best option.

Until it wasn’t.

“There wasn’t much to his recruitment,” said Stricklin. “His junior year was COVID. No one was able to see him play. He had gone through an injury. He was on 6-4-3 out of Atlanta and wasn’t even on their top team. He wasn’t on anybody’s radar. He was tall and lanky and wasn’t strong enough.”

Then Condon got a break. Sometimes, breaks go against you, and other times, they fall in your favor. Condon seized his chance and turned that break into a life-changing opportunity.

“In the fall of his senior year, a coach for 6-4-3 and a friend of mine called me to tell me about him,” Stricklin said. “My friend said, ‘He’s a Georgia kid, he wants to go to Georgia but right now, he is going to Rhodes College and play baseball and possibly football.’ My friend told me, ‘He can get in on his own and he’s a really good student. He would love to go to Georgia. He just wants a chance.’ There weren’t any promises. He was a true walk-on.”

Condon explained how one of the best players in the sport today was not a big recruit in 2021. Or, frankly, any recruit at all.

“With my path, I was kind of a late bloomer,” said Condon. “I also played football (as a quarterback) so you don’t have those fall seasons. The only time you are seen is in the spring when you are playing single-A private ball. You have to take advantage of your summers and show out there.”

Condon didn’t exactly blow recruiters away. And while he currently appears to be a recruiting miss in a world where hardly anyone falls through the cracks, he didn’t agree with that notion. With the self-awareness of a much older man, Condon offered this nugget.

“I never say that I was wronged in my recruiting process,” Condon continued. “I wasn’t near the player I am today. Just trusting that process, when COVID hit, and knowing I could improve and get better. For a while it was looking like I was going to take dual role at D3 academic and play football and baseball, but I always just wanted to play baseball at as high a level as I could. When Coach Stricklin came around with the offer to be a preferred walk-on in the SEC in a HOPE state, it was a no-brainer for me.”

Sometimes, those coaching connection recommendations pay off. Other times, there’s buyer’s remorse. In this case, Stricklin had a good feeling about Condon as soon as he saw him play.

Charlie Condon is 6-foot-6 and 216 pounds (UGa photo)

“We saw him play in the spring of his senior year, ” said Stricklin. “He was still underweight and wasn’t strong enough, but we thought he could be pretty good.”

Arriving in Athens

Then, in the fall of 2021, Condon appeared as an unheralded freshman in Athens. He showed up ready for classes, ready for baseball, and ready to grind.

“What we learned about Charlie when he got to Georgia was a high level of work ethic,” said Stricklin. “High level kind of kid that you want on your team as far his standards and he had a lot of talent.”

They had to decide what to do with Condon. Many players struggle to gain weight during the season, and the staff wasn’t convinced he was strong enough to excel at his true freshman strength. Stricklin came to the youngster with a plan to align the body with the talent.

“He redshirted,” said Stricklin. “He jumped on board with it. His parents jumped on board with it. We talked about the plan to put on 20 pounds, lift weights, and go play in the Northwoods League and get 300 at-bats and see what happens. Charlie handled it the right way. He worked really hard. He is the total package. It all went the way we hoped it would.”

But how can a player with that obvious talent sit out his entire first season? Stricklin saw it as an investment, one Condon bought into. They both knew Condon was a walk-on with scholarship potential, but he needed to add more muscle to reach those goals.

“He was 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds,” said Stricklin. “He had bat speed. You could see that, but he needed to get stronger.”

“In the fall, Coach Stricklin let me know that we had so many guys returning from COVID years or not getting the draft numbers that they wanted, that we were going to be too deep in spots,” said Condon. “It was going to be a redshirt year for me.”

He didn’t panic, pout, or portal.

Condon attacked the weight room with the same ferocity he currently attacks SEC pitchers. He made strides but still had a long way to go. Some players might consider redshirting beneath them, but not Condon, who used the experience to grow his body and mental strength.

“When he came in in January, ” Stricklin said, “there’s no question he could have played as a freshman, but we had already made that decision. He handled it perfectly. The adversity that he dealt with during the COVID year. He didn’t get a lot of visibility. Showing up to college. Sitting out his freshman year. He never blinked. He just worked harder. He is where he is because of the way he has handled adversity.”

Condon continued to lift. He went to class. He lifted some more. He added weight and strength. He stayed engaged with the baseball team, but his focus wasn’t on doubles and home runs but on improving his body so those extra-base hits would come later.

“I got to campus my freshman year, and I tried to take it a day at a time,” said Condon. I kind of had to prove myself as a guy who was not a scholarship guy out of high school or a highly recruited guy in our class. I had to take care of business in the classroom and once intrasquads rolled around.”

Then Condon finally got some scrimmage time and had some success, which helped him demonstrate his progress and made him wonder if he could help the team immediately.

“That was a little frustrating for me considering how I had played in the fall,” admitted Condon. “There were plenty of areas of my game that needed to get better. Once I accepted that this was the path for me, I just made the most of it. I got in the weight room and tried to put some weight on. I continued to get college at-bats with intrasquads.”

The coaches recognized what they had and rewarded Condon, making sure everyone knew the future was bright for the budding slugger.

“We knew by the end of his freshman year when he was having live at-bats, this guy is going to be really good,” Stricklin explained. “We put him on scholarship. We talked to him and his parents and said, ‘You have handled this about as well as you could have. You are on scholarship next year.’ That put them more at ease that everything would be how it needed to be.”

So, what did Condon do as he gained that weight? Because many players around the country would love to emulate his path.

“In addition to lifting, I focused on my movement efficiency and making sure my swing is in a good spot,” said Condon. “To move fast rotationally. I continue to stick to my process.”

“He gained good weight,” Stricklin said. “He lost some when he went to the Northwoods League. He got a lot stronger. Players can tell you when you are playing it is hard to maintain weight, let alone gain weight.”

“I showed up to campus about 195 pounds and got up to 210 by my sophomore year,” Condon said. “I’m a little bit more than that now (listed at 216). I have tried to put on as much as I can of good weight, about 12-15 pounds.”

Condon got to play summer ball in the Northwoods League and play actual games instead of just lifting and practicing. He got the live reps he missed while redshirting. His patience and acceptance of the plan were showing dividends. The summer also served as a maturation process for him. He got away from home – farther than Marietta to Athens – and had to focus on his physical and mental development.

“I got 270-something at-bats, which was more than I had gotten so far,” Condon said. “It was long bus rides. It was showing up to the field every day. If you were on the road with a five-hour bus ride the night before, being able to wake up and get going the next day was really good at developing the tool of flipping the script. Knowing that you have to be able to show up to the yard with a blank slate every day. Getting comfortable in my own skin was big.”

Back to school ready to break out

When Condon returned for the fall of 2023 for his redshirt freshman season, the coaches felt that they had something special.

“We knew he was going to have a chance to have a great year,” said Stricklin. “We thought he would have a chance to be a 15-home run guy.

He hit 25.”

“Charlie is a really humble kid. I remember talking to him late last year and asking, ‘Did you think you’d be here?’ He laughed and said, ‘No way, coach.’ He was in disbelief, too.”

Condon set the SEC freshman home run record in 2023 with those 25 dingers. He is now one of the top players in the sport and is projected as a potential top overall pick in this summer’s draft.

But as good as Condon was, Georgia didn’t make the postseason in 2023, and Georgia moved on from Stricklin. In came a new coach, Wes Johnson, who had coached stars like Dylan Crews, Paul Skenes, and Tommy White as an assistant on LSU’s 2023 national title squad.

It also meant that, in the days when players can transfer without sitting out, Condon could be one of the top free agents in the sport if he chose to be.

However, leaving wasn’t part of his plan. Condon stayed at Georgia, coming back for this third season in Athens for the 2024 season.

“It never really was a thought to cross my mind to leave Georgia and play ball somewhere else,” said Condon. “With my background, the University of Georgia was the only school to give me a chance to play baseball in college. I’m not going to ever turn my back to that. I know how thankful I was for a university of such a high caliber put to much into my development. I still owe a lot to this program and this school. I’m really comfortable playing in the Red and Black and there’s no other school I would want to represent.”

Condon’s return served as a key building block for Johnson, who was interested in not only the home run stroke but also the athleticism and makeup. Johnson described the privilege of writing Condon’s name on the daily lineup card.

“It’s similar to when (LSU head coach) Jay (Johnson) would write Paul Skenes’ name every Friday,” said Johnson. “You knew you would have a very high chance to win the ballgame. You knew there was a good chance the guy would go six or seven innings and save your bullpen for the rest of the weekend. There was a comfort there. That’s what it’s like to write Charlie’s name on the lineup card.”

“Great kid, great student, great family,” added Johnson. “Total package. Skenes was the total package. They are very similar.”

“It is such a rarity to find a kid who is so humble, yet so talented,” said Stricklin.

Condon has gotten off to an incredible start. Georgia has 94 home runs (second behind Tennessee’s 95 going into Tuesday), feeding the trees beyond the Foley Field outfield wall. Condon has an astounding 24 of those in only 36 games. Expanding that average over a 56-game season, Condon would hit 36 home runs in 2024. And if the Bulldogs get enough games in the postseason, Condon could creep up to the 40 home run mark, which no one has done since Lance Berkman in 1997. It’s 2024, in case you were wondering. Condon is on a historic pace that hasn’t been seen in 27 years.

What makes Condon so dangerous?

This raises the obvious question: How is Condon mashing pitches when teams try to limit the hittable pitches he sees?

“His pitch recognition is through the roof,” said Johnson. “We work at it a lot. I call it more plate discipline. This guy knows the strike zone so well. In my time with the Twins, it allowed me to see the best hitters at that level, which are the best hitters in the world. They have a complete understanding of the strike zone. Charlie has that. He’s taking close pitches and working counts. Eventually guys give you a ball somewhere around the middle of the plate. The most impressive thing about Charlie is when he gets those pitches, he hits the ball 100 mph. It doesn’t mean it is going to be homer or a double, but his average exit velocity is the most impressive thing about him. His average exit velocity in our fall was like 99.8. And he had almost 100 at-bats in the fall.”

“I think his pitch recognition is at a really high level,” said Chris Burke, the ESPN broadcaster and former Tennessee and MLB star who has broadcasted multiple Georgia games this season. “He seems to make really quick swing decisions. He is a toe-tapper with his timing mechanism, and he seems to have a really good feel for being on time.”

Burke continued with an anecdote from a game he broadcasted when Georgia swept Alabama in Athens.

“I think a perfect example is the home run he hit off Alton Davis off the batter’s eye,” Burke said. Davis has a big arm, up to 97, and he throws (Condon) a first-pitch breaking ball, and Condon swings right over the top of it. Then (Davis) throws him a backdoor breaking ball, and it was a ball, and (Condon) made a very early decision on it, and the umpire incorrectly called it a strike.”

Some players would have let the past pitch affect the next one. Not Condon, who regrouped despite the ticking pitch clock and impressed Burke with the next swing. 

“Alton Davis tried to climb the ladder with 95 (mph) and Condon takes it over the batter’s eye,” Burke said. “Ben McDonald talks about it all the time on our broadcast about the sequence going slow, slow, fast. Usually, hitters are going to be tardy in that scenario. For (Condon) to be on time, clearly at the top of the of strike zone against a pitcher with elite stuff, I see he clearly recognized the ball early out of the hand. His mechanics allow him to slow down and speed up to make the proper adjustments.”

Condon’s game has impressed not just former hitters. Lance Cormier, who starred at Alabama collegiately before an eight-year major league career, is now an ESPN analyst who broadcasted Georgia’s series at Tennessee.

“You think, sooner or later this has got to end,” Cormier said of Condon’s .482 batting average. “But he keeps hitting. The fact that he keeps hitting, even if he gets out, it is a hard out. It’s barrels. Maybe this doesn’t have to end. Even when he gets out, it’s a rocket.”

In one of those games in Knoxville, Condon went 5-for-6 with two home runs. Condon was dialed in.

“For some reason, Tennessee kept pitching to him,” Cormier said. “I’m thinking, ‘Why do you keep pitching to this guy?’ Then you start to see things like he covers the outside of the plate two inches. He hits the ball to right. He hits offspeed, he hits fastballs, he hits high velocity. His home run number 19, the pitch was 98 (mph) and he went off the batter’s eye on a line drive. What do you do to get him out?”

The other question that Stricklin mentioned and Cormier expanded on is why teams keep pitching to Condon if he has an advantage over them. He’s seen his share of walks – some intentional and some, well, officially unintentional, with an intentional purpose.

“On the home run before, the guy tried to go in and he got inner third,” Cormier said. “He didn’t get black. It’s another homer. It’s a zone where he doesn’t chase. He’s going to hit his pitch. He’s just not missing it. College pitchers usually aren’t good enough to pitch around him. The ball is going to come creeping back into the zone and he’s ready when it does.”

“They are going to pick how they attack him,” Johnson said. “Are they going to go at him? Are they going to walk him?”

Condon is careful not to expand the zone when pitchers take that approach. He has improved in this area since arriving in Athens.

“It is an area that has developed a lot since my freshman year,” said Condon. “Then I would swing at just about anything. I learned that you are not just going to have good pitches land in your lap. You’ve got to work for them facing such talented pitching. I’ve learned to put myself in leverage counts and earn good pitches. This is something that I always have a focus on.”

When they do come at him, Condon doesn’t look like a batter trying to smash 400-foot bombs. His approach is his approach, whether it is a pitcher’s ball on the black or a fat one on a tee.

“There’s nothing that makes it look like he is trying to create lift or launch,” said Burke. “He is very good at hitting the bottom half of the ball. You combine that with 70 raw power and you are going to get a lot of home runs.”

Another fascinating aspect of Condon’s game is he is 6-foot-6. Usually, players that height have a long swing. Instead, Condon has displayed surprising athleticism in the box.

“Usually long levers, people would associate with a slow bat but that’s just not the case with Condon,” Burke said. “He does a really nice job with shortening his lead arm and getting the barrel around on time.”

Condon has started at five positions

But that’s not the only thing that separates Condon from the other top hitters in the sport. The redshirt sophomore has started games at first base, third base, left field, center field, and right field this season. He’s displayed positional flexibility without disrupting his offensive numbers.

“With where we were from a personnel standpoint, we needed those guys who could play multiple positions,” said Johnson. “When I got here and saw how athletic he was, I felt he could do it. The other thing is I felt it would drive his draft stock. Everyone thought he was just a righthanded bat that plays first base. If I was to play him at first base (exclusively), I would be shocked if he wasn’t the best first baseman in college baseball with his range and hands. He and (Jac) Caglianone, they’d be right there together.”

“When we played Georgia Tech,” Johnson continued, “He won that game with his glove at third base with three phenomenal plays. He’s above big league-average at first. He’s big league-average at third. Because he is playing center field so much for us. You could say he’s big league-average in left and right. He’s 95+ from the outfield so the arm is not going to be an issue. What he’s done is shown he’s a college, league-average in center.”

“Nothing really surprises me when it comes to Charlie Condon,” said Stricklin. “He was athletic enough to play third or first and a good enough runner to play outfield, even in center. I see him as a corner outfielder in the pros. He can do it all.” 

“I don’t remember ever seeing a superstar player playing as many positions as Condon has this season,” said Burke. “He has started at five positions, none of them DH, and two are premium positions at third base and center field.”

“If I were him, I would say, ‘Keep me in center field,’” said Cormier. “If I could play center, I could definitely play left or right. If I could play third base, I could definitely play first. He looks the part. He glides when he runs and makes it look easy.”

“It is fun for me,” said Condon. “It is one more thing to work on. Wherever I am, it is about getting reps. If I am in the outfield, it is about getting game reads off the bat. If you go about that the right way in practice, it is like getting game reads. If you can mentally lock in, you can gain game experience. I think that has helped me get comfortable in a number of different spots. I enjoy it because it can help create the best offensive lineup on a given day getting other guys in for matchups. If I can do my part and push and pull in certain directions, it can help the Dogs win games.”

The positional versatility only adds to the lore. Keep in mind the bat has created plenty of noise on its own. Condon has been mentioned as one of the top picks in July’s draft. All of that for a skinny kid who redshirted his freshman season because he wasn’t yet physically mature.

His development off the field was certainly displayed in his interview for this feature, where he showed remarkable presence and maturity. All of those combine to remind some of Skenes, the first pick of last year’s draft, and others of Wyatt Langford, who went from Florida’s College World Series squad to an opening-day starter on the MLB World Series champion Texas Rangers this season.

“I’ve never been around a guy in the box like this one,” said Johnson. “Dylan (Crews) was pretty close. They are different players. It is different when he is in the box. The exit velo, every time. He hits the ball hard, every day.”

“I’d say Condon is a better defensive prospect because he can play on the dirt,” said Burke. “Langford is probably faster, but Condon looks more at ease with his route running. The flexibility of Condon gives him a distinct advantage as well. Offensively, to me Langford is the best college hitter I have covered since being a member of the media. Condon is very close to that as we stand.”

That kind of praise signifies how difficult it must have been to prepare to play Georgia, realizing Condon looms ready to pounce on good pitches, let alone mistakes.

“I told people before I got the job last year when we were prepping for Georgia that he’s the best righthanded hitter I have had to game-plan for at that point in time,” said Johnson. “Obviously, Wyatt Langford was good, and I had to game-plan for him later on. The thing that people don’t understand about that kid is how athletic (Condon) is in the box.”

Condon was asked about the Langford comp, and while he was honored, he didn’t shy away from it.

“It is very high praise as a guy who played against Wyatt last year, seeing how he went about his business,” said Condon. “How respected and feared he was means a lot. It is fun to think about long term stuff like that. When I have my most success is when I am locked in on the task at hand.  Just showing up and being ready to roll.”

If Condon continues his current pace, no one will have to wait long to hear his name called in the MLB draft and he has a chance to follow Langford’s abbreviated journey to the show. Until that day comes, he’s focused on the day-to-day.

Just as he was when he was building his body to be a successful SEC hitter, he’s now focused on the plan. If that leads him to the heights Langford reached, that’s even better.

“Sure, I want to be feared like he was, and it is fun to have my name mentioned along with guys like that who I have a ton of respect for,” Condon said. “It is about the work that I can put in so I can be mentioned with something like that. It is all about what is front of me right now.”

What’s in front of Condon is a record-breaking college career. One that the high school version of him never thought possible.   

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