As the wind blows in a new season, it blows the flags at Foley Field. Two flags hang, one smaller but with great significance — the 1990 National Championship pennant–recognizing a baseball team made up of 40 individual men who shared the same goal 30 years ago — to win.
Why It’s Newsworthy: Winning a national title in any sport requires more than just pure talent. Chemistry, trust and understanding of roles are part of the equation. Those qualities. however, extend outside of the scope of athletics and seep into our everyday lives, reminding us that surrounding ourselves with a team is sometimes what gets us through.
The Team — The Family
Thirty years later, an entrepreneur, head coach, recovering alcoholic and a school teacher sit and reminisce on the season that would be remembered in history as a “miracle.”
Proving Themselves to the World
The 1990 Georgia baseball team is enshrined in history as more than the first team in Georgia history to win a College World Series, but the first team in the Southeastern Conference to earn this honor.
With only three games left in the regular season and an SEC tournament to look forward to, the Bulldogs were 44-12. The season was an outstanding achievement with an SEC title written all over it. An SEC title they would never get.
Georgia, needing only one win to share the SEC title, lost all three games to LSU in its final series of the regular season. The team would then travel to Hoover, Alabama for the SEC tournament and lose the first two games, playing the worst baseball the team had seen all season.
After the team’s fall from grace, the Bulldogs competed in the Northeast Regional for a chance to play in the College World Series. Winning all but one game, Georgia punched its ticket and headed to Omaha where the team would attempt to accomplish what no other team in program history had done before.
Georgia won their first game with ease, beating Mississippi State 3-0 and advancing to the semifinals against Stanford. Stanford had one of the most accomplished baseball programs to date and a team full of skilled athletes, not to mention, future MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Mike Mussina. By winning two of its three games against Stanford, Georgia advanced to the final proving to collegiate baseball that they could play on the world stage too.
Everything came down to this.
Georgia’s left-handed pitcher, Stan Payne, would start in the biggest game of his life, just a year removed from high school.
“I get nervous thinking about it now,” Payne said as he began reminiscing on the game. “I didn’t even have enough spit in my mouth to swallow when I was doing my warmup pitches.”
Payne took the mound and waited for the pitch call from his soon to be roommate, sophomore catcher, Terry Childers.
“Before the first pitch I said to [Payne], ‘Hey, it’s me and you playing catch,’ ”Childers said. “‘Let’s just try to put everything in the background and just focus on doing what got us here.'”
Behind Payne stood old high school friend and second baseman, Joey Alfonso.
“I remember going up to him before the game started. And I said to him, ‘Hey, just throw that curveball in there,’ ”Alfonso said. “‘Like you’re casting that lure underneath a tree.'”
Payne would pitch six innings, and while Childers still thinks Payne’s outing was impressive, David Perno, Georgia’s junior second baseman, did not think twice about it.
“Just give him the ball and he’s gonna do his thing,” Perno said. “It does not matter how old he is or how good the other team is, Stan had a good mentality to pitch in that game.”
After the end of the sixth inning, Payne retired and handed the game over to future MLB pitcher Dave Fleming. In the ninth inning, with two outs and two strikes, Fleming looked to Childers to sign to him what would hopefully be the final pitch. Fleming agreed to the pitch, got set, and threw a slider right to Childers. The umpire stood tall to punch out the Oklahoma State bater.
For the first time in school history, the Georgia Bulldogs were College World Series champions.
Chemistry, Not Just Talent
The team was special – no doubt about that. Looking back, Payne says they did not win just because of their athletic ability.
“It’s not always the team with the best players, because I think there were multiple teams that were in college baseball at that time that had more talented rosters,” Payne said. “Pretty much every one of us were close, there was never any animosity. There was never anyone doing anything for themselves. And that’s truly what made it special. ”
Coach Scott Stricklin, the University of Georgia head baseball coach, agrees that it’s not always the strongest roster that wins.
“You’ve got to have the intangibles beyond experience and confidence,” said Coach Stricklin. “It’s not all about experience, but about getting hot at the right time.”
The team came back from Omaha with a trophy and a new knowledge of their ring sizes. Alfonso would graduate that year from the University. Perno, Childers and Payne would do the same in the following years. The team that was so tight knit would now go into the world without the power G and pinstripes, and hope to find some wins of their own.
Who Have They Become?
Payne would graduate from the University of Georgia and start a company with a couple of his friends. The company, Evoshield, started in 2005 and produced sporting protective gear that would mold to the athlete’s body. Evoshield is worn by many MLB players and collegiate teams, like Texas A&M who have signed an extensive deal with the company.
In 2017, Payne and his friends would sell the company to Wilson, but Payne loved every second of creating the company.
“The evoshield journey was almost like playing baseball again.” Payne said. “We dealt with all the college programs and the MLB. We built the product from scratch, we put our heart and souls into every piece of it. ”
Childers loved Athens, and everything the city had to offer. He would even meet his first wife in the Classic City. He and his wife both fell into addiction while in Athens. Childers has been sober from alcohol for 16 years now, and it might not have happened, if it was not for his first wife.
“She almost overdosed and died.” Childers said. “The first thing she asked me when she came to was, did I have any more pills. At that moment, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. Like this is insanity. I can not do this to my kids anymore. ”
Childers chose his children and checked himself into a rehabilitation facility for their 28 day program. He hasn’t touched alcohol since.
People caught him when he was at his lowest. Now Childers catches others who struggle with addiction. Three years into his sobriety, Childers started working at The Bluff in Augusta to help others find their sobriety and has been there since.
Perno knew from his high school years that coaching would be his career. After going through smaller schools and assistant coaching positions, Perno was named Georgia’s head baseball coach. In his time Perno took his teams to six different regionals and made it to the College World Series three of those times. He was successful in the red and black, but in his last two years as head coach, two of his players suffered paralysis.
“You recruit these kids and you give these parents your word that you’re going to take care of them,” Perno said. “I did not run into them or do that, but you still feel responsible.”
After the conclusion of the 2013 season, Perno was fired as the Georgia baseball head coach.
“The most difficult time for me was [when the athletic association] had a big breakfast for the athletes, ”Perno said,“ and I was not invited. I had to sneak into graduation, to see those two young men graduate. ”
Perno is now the head football coach at Clarke Central High School, but feels like he has unfinished work in the world of college baseball.
Alfonso grew up in Bishop, where he and his family grew much of their food year-round to save money. He did not grow up going to Georgia baseball games but dreamed of playing a sport in college, it did not matter where. After transferring in from Georgia College and being rejected twice from Coach Webber, his senior year he would make history. Once as a national champion. Twice as the first in his family to graduate from college.
“One of my things was if I was going to go to college, I did not want to live the way I lived,” Alfonso said.
Graduating with a business degree, Alfonso recognized that his calling was teaching and breaking down the false narratives of his students.
“IN [tell them], ‘Your socioeconomic status does not determine your life. You determine your life, there may be things that are unequal in this world, but it does not mean that you can not find success in your own right, ‘”Alfonso said.
He instills in his students what he has learned throughout life and became the coach and safe space for high school students who struggle with family socioeconomic status.
Where they stand today
The Georgia Bulldogs have not seen a College World Series trophy since 1990. The team is 32 years removed, but they still find themselves leaning on their teams each and everyday.
Taylor Vismor is a senior majoring in journalism, minoring in sports management and receiving her certificate in sports media.