May 25, 2024

Charlie Condon’s incredible journey from unwanted recruit to college baseball’s premier slugger


ATHENS, Ga. — The best player in college baseball, arguably the best player in Georgia baseball history, plopped down in a chair. Outside, a few teammates were shagging flies and listening to music on a warm, sunny afternoon. Charlie Condon, meanwhile, was cooped up in a dark room, and he was OK with that.

When only recently nobody wanted to talk to him, when he was paying his way to school, when he wasn’t actually playing baseball, he was ok with some attention.

“It’s been busy, but nothing to complain about,” Condon said. “It means I’m doing something right.”

Something, for sure. Heading into this weekend’s series against Vanderbilt, Condon leads the nation in batting average (.456), home runs (30), slugging (1.088) and OPS (1.651).

He’s a legitimate candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 Major League Baseball Draft.

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And he arrived at Georgia as a walk-on who didn’t even play in a game as a freshman.

“It’s a great story,” said Scott Stricklin, Georgia’s now-former coach who opted to redshirt Condon in 2022 and admits he still thinks about that decision.

Even then, Stricklin had an inkling of what he had. Condon was taking batting practice before a game against Texas A&M, and Stricklin was talking with his counterpart, Jim Schlossnagle.

“This kid’s gonna be a star,” Stricklin told Schlossnagle. “He’s redshirting for us right now, but man he’s gonna be really good.”

After telling that story, Stricklin paused.

“Now I don’t think any of us saw this,” he said.

Last weekend, against Schlossnagle’s Aggies, Condon broke the Georgia single-season and career home run records with his 29th of the season and 54th of his career — in only his 99th game.

Charlie Condon in the national rankings

Category Condon Rank

Average

.456

1

Home runs

30

1

RBIs

63

10

Slugging

1.088

1

OPS

1.651

1

Runs

62

6

So how did this happen?

Condon is a lifelong Georgian, born at Northside Hospital in Atlanta and raised in Marietta. He has a cousin, Owen Condon, who was a reserve offensive lineman at Georgia. Before transferring, Owen Condon roomed with Stetson Bennett, a player who walked on and then … well, you know that story.

Charlie Condon played baseball growing up, rec ball, travel ball and then for The Walker School in Marietta. But he wasn’t tall or strong, and up until late in his junior year, the plan was to attend Division III Rhodes College in Memphis to play baseball and football. Then things started to change. He hit a growth spurt, eventually reaching 6 feet 5. He grew at the plate, becoming more disciplined, and as he grew physically and started to hit with more power.

There was some mental maturity, perhaps his head clearing during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

“I knew that when COVID rolled around, I had an opportunity to either lay down and say my baseball career is only going to be as good as D-III dual sport, or I had a chance to put my foot on the gas and push for something that I really wanted,” Condon said. “I’d say that was a maturity flip. I’m betting on myself, if I can get a chance to get a Division I walk-on offer, I’ll try to go stake it out there and not settle for a place I could contribute right away. But I want to go to a place where I could develop and grow into something that’s a lot bigger than myself.”

There were people in Condon’s corner at his travel ball club, 6-4-3, including one who called Stricklin and told him he had an under-the-radar prospect who was talented, really smart and had been accepted at Georgia as a regular student. The person finished the pitch: “Hey, it’s not gonna cost you anything. He just wants a chance.”

Stricklin gave him that chance, but it would still be a while before it all came together. Condon hit well enough in the fall of his freshman year to show he had a real future with the team — but not well enough to play in a game.

“I was proving that I belonged to be here, both by my performance on the field and just handling business in the classroom and things like that. I think that’s what was a little bit frustrating about that redshirt decision,” Condon said. “But yeah, once that came along, it was like that COVID year all over again, just trying to make the most of what was in front of me. I think that to this day is when I’m doing my best, is when I’m focused on what’s right in front of me.”

Condon points out that Stricklin had a lot of personnel decisions that year, thanks to a backlog of players using the extra year of eligibility and players who didn’t get what they wanted from the MLB Draft that had shrunk from 40 rounds pre-pandemic to 20 starting in 2021.

“All I told Charlie was, ‘Look, if you do this the right way, 365 days from now, you’re going to be in a really good spot,’” Stricklin said. “And he did.”

Still, does Stricklin — who was fired after the 2023 season — wonder if he should’ve played Condon right away?

“Sure I do. I do all the time,” Stricklin said. “He certainly could have played as a freshman, no doubt about it. But I look at where he is right now, and I think it worked out pretty well for him. And 99 percent of it is because of how he handled it. You can’t look back, and bottom line, he is where he is. He’s in a great spot, in a great position, and he deserves a ton of credit.”

Condon went on trips with the team in 2022 because the coaches wanted him to get the reps. That’s where Stricklin started to see it. It was clear well before the 2023 season that something special was afoot, and Condon showed it on the field last spring: 25 home runs, 67 RBIs, an .800 slugging percentage, a .386 batting average and a .484 on-base percentage.

It has continued this year, and he has added something else to his portfolio: versatility, playing all three outfield positions plus third base and first base. That’s something new coach Wes Johnson, a former Minnesota Twins pitching coach, approached Condon about in the offseason. It was partly to help this year’s Georgia team, partly to help Condon’s future.

“I was fortunate enough to be around the best players in the world,” Johnson said. “So I can talk about Carlos Correa or Luis Arraez, who’s won two batting titles, or Nelson Cruz. Those guys understand that there’s always a next level, no matter where they’re at in their game. The minute, those guys they’ll tell you, you think mentally you’ve arrived, the game will take you for a ride. I think the biggest thing about Charlie that continues to help him progress is he 1,000 percent gets that.”

Whether Condon goes No. 1 overall in the draft remains a question. The Cleveland Guardians hold that pick. There will be holes poked: Do teams want a right-handed hitter? Have there been enough tall hitters to excel in the majors? Does he have a natural position in the field? But the numbers are the numbers, and the makeup is not in question.

“He’s the real deal,” Stricklin said. “And I think he’ll be in the major leagues real soon.”

But for now, Condon said he has put on blinders and is all about getting Georgia back into the NCAA Tournament, maybe even to the College World Series, where it hasn’t been since 2008. He’s aware his personal story is interesting and is fine talking about it. But he talks about it in a matter-of-fact, analytical way. Not as if the journey is over.

“There wasn’t one light bulb moment. That’s kind of the beauty of it,” Condon said. “Baseball’s not something that’s going to click for you overnight. You’re not going to wake up one day and be a completely different player, no matter how hard you wish for it. … Learning to fall in love with the process of trying to get better and not falling in love with the result of what comes from the process. I think that’s why I love this game so much, is everything that happens out there is amazing. But it’s the process of developing myself that I really love, more than anything.”

(Photo: Jeff Moreland / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)





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