STATESBORO — Georgia Southern baseball's annual “Evening with the All-Stars” has been a hit from its inception, and the long line of star power that has headlined the event continues to be a tribute to the popularity of a night that never fails to jump-start another spring on the diamond.
On Thursday night, Terry Pendleton was the latest to address the Georgia Southern baseball team and its fans during a dinner at the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center on campus.
Pendleton played with the Atlanta Braves from 1991-94 and won a National League East title in every season (other than strike-shortened 1994) that he served with the Braves. A lifetime .270 hitter, Pendleton hit 190 career home runs, made an All-Star Game appearance in 1992 and — with his 1991 recognition — is the third National League Most Valuable Player to be the featured guest at the Eagles' annual event in the last four years.
A veteran of five Major League squads, Pendleton's fondest memories came in Atlanta.
“That 1991 team was the most fun I ever had playing the game,” Pendleton said of his first year in Atlanta, when the Braves went from worst to first and won the N.L. Championship. “We heard the rah-rah speeches during spring training, but then I saw the work and the effort that we all had to put in as a team to achieve our goal. That was special.”
That sort of message was what Pendleton wanted to convey to the current Eagle squad as he addressed the players in a private session following practice Thursday afternoon.
Plenty of former guests at the event have been able to offer GSU players a perspective on what it takes to succeed at baseball's highest level. Pendleton added to that list, but — as a current first-base coach, as well as former third-base coach and hitting instructor for the Braves — was also able to bring the knowledge of someone who is still in the game and is now seeing things in a different light.
“The biggest thing is how you approach life and how you learn lessons,” Pendleton said. “I learned a lot coming up through the game. I tried to use that with younger players as I got older. Now that I'm done playing, I try to help players grasp life lessons and reach their potential.”
Georgia Southern head coach Rodney Hennon appreciated Pendleton's visit. With opening day for the Eagles now just a week away, he welcomed a change of pace to a familiar message.
“We preach hard work all the time,” Hennon said. “I think it's great every year that we can have someone who the guys have seen on TV and who they look up to come in and give that message. I think it gets through a little more that way.”
As hectic as life for a player can be, Pendleton's current role keeps him even busier. With the Braves reporting to Kissimmee, Florida, for spring training in the coming weeks, a coach's job of organizing and evaluating tons of information can become more complicated than hitting or throwing a ball.
“I love being at home,” Pendleton said. “It doesn't get any easier to come to spring training. But every year, it's great to be back and to start on another season.”
The Braves have more than a month before the games start to count, but Georgia Southern is about to jump right into the deep end. GSU travels to Athens Friday for a three-game series against Georgia, where the Eagles will look to build off of the three-game sweep they dealt to the Bulldogs at J.I. Clements Stadium last season.