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UGA’s highest MLB draft pick of all time makes way for Charlie Condon

UGA’s highest MLB draft pick of all time makes way for Charlie Condon

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Charlie Condon’s home run salvo last season became must-see viewing for anyone who follows college baseball.

One interested observer tuned in from Arizona at least 20 times to watch the records fall.

Before establishing himself as a lawyer in the Phoenix area, Jeff Pyburn played two sports: starting quarterback for the Georgia football team and center fielder for the Bulldogs baseball team.

The Athens native, Cedar Shoals graduate and son of longtime assistant coach Vince Dooley, has the honor of being ranked higher in the MLB Draft than any other player in Georgia history.

At least for a few more days, because Condon Sunday is expected to top the player who was selected No. 5 in the 1980 draft to San Diego.

Condon is considered one of the first draft picks and is ranked number 1 by many.

“The guy is an incredible player, does incredible things,” Pyburn said of a player who set a BBCOR Bat era record with 37 home runs and led the nation with a .433 average. “I would be honored to be surpassed by him.”

Georgia had 11 first-round draft picks, including two pitchers selected No. 6 overall: Derek Lilliquist to Atlanta in 1987 and Emerson Hancock to Seattle in 2020.

Pyburn’s father, Jim, was an All-American football player at Auburn and led the SEC in batting average. He played three years with the Orioles and later became a defensive assistant for Georgia football from 1964 to 1979.

Jeff grew up in East Athens and was selected as a Parade All-American as a running quarterback at Cedar. Alabama and Bear Bryant “recruited me like crazy.”

Pyburn wanted to play two sports but had heard it would be difficult there. However, he knew he could do it at Georgia because he had seen Andy Johnson do it.

Pyburn played quarterback for Georgia in 1977 and 1978, throwing a total of 1,190 passes with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. A player who defensive lineman Robert Goodwin now says was “probably the best athlete on the football team,” he was the team’s third-leading runner as a sophomore with 348 yards and four touchdowns.

“We didn’t throw the ball,” Pyburn said. “When we first started, we were a veer-option team. Heck, if we threw the ball 10 or 12 times a game, that was a lot.”

Pyburn, now 66, started the first three games of 1979 before suffering an acromioclavicular joint injury and a quarterback named Buck Belue took over.

“I think I had four knee surgeries before I left Georgia,” Pyburn said.

Pyburn returned and led the Bulldogs to a 16-3 victory over Georgia Tech in his final game. Belue helped Georgia to the 1980 national championship.

At Georgia, Pyburn had a career batting average of .345 with 33 home runs, 128 RBIs and 32 stolen bases, including 14, which tied for the most on his team in 1979. In 1980, he hit a .400 batting average with 15 home runs, including 3 grand slams, and led the SEC with 54 runs scored and 66 RBIs.

“He checked all the boxes,” said Belue, who also played outfield and led Georgia with a .373 average, 13 home runs and 45 RBIs in 1979 and was a sixth-round pick of the Expos in 1982. “He could hit powerfully, he could run, played a really impressive outfield and was a good guy, a good teammate.”

Pyburn learned after a baseball game at Georgia Tech that he had been selected by Buffalo in the fifth round of the NFL Draft as a defensive back after rushing for an impressive 40 runs at the NFL Combine.

“I think what is often overlooked is that you have to be determined to do it,” Belue said of playing two sports. “You compete year-round, you train year-round. It wasn’t easy. There were people trying to discourage you along the way. There were a few of them.”

Pyburn played three seasons in the Padres’ minor leagues and reached the AAA league in Honolulu.

“Buffalo had some players injured and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said. “Bad mistake, but I gave up baseball to play football and that’s where I suffered a (knee) injury that ended my career.”

Pyburn had bought a home in Arizona to live in during the offseason, and the three-time Academic All-SEC football player, who had received an NCAA postgraduate scholarship, was studying law at Arizona State University.

“The fact that I focused on studying law at that time was a good thing and kept me busy,” he said.

He is active in the field of civil litigation and has been practicing as a lawyer for 38 years.

“Nobody worked as hard as that guy,” Goodwin, a retired teacher and coach from Winterville, said of his college roommate. “He worked his ass off all the time. He did everything he could to get better. … It would have been incredible to see if he had never had those knee injuries, even at Georgia. Oh my God, there’s no telling what he would have done.”

Pyburn’s playing career ended decades ago. Condon’s is just beginning.

Pyburn said: “He is a stallion.”