Getty Images

Belief propelled Charlie Condon from unknown prospect to a walk-on to one of the best baseball players on the planet. He could have taken a simpler path coming out of high school in Marietta, Georgia, and gone to either Rhodes College or Sewanee, got on the field earlier and continued playing football on the side. 

Frankly, it's what his parents advised, encouraging the youngest of their three children to consider the benefits of a smaller university. But something buried deep inside him -- a quiet confidence that his father can't fully explain -- willed him to this place that no one could have foreseen only a few years ago: leading the Georgia Bulldogs to an NCAA Regional on Friday, playing third base and leading the country in home runs, and, about a month and a half from now, potentially leading the way in the MLB Draft as the No. 1 pick.

Condon should have fallen through the cracks at multiple points along the way. Here was a kid who was relegated to the B-Team of his travel ball program; a kid who was so thin that he'd later pinch his thumb and pointer finger together to show, "I was this big around"; a kid who missed fall ball every year because he loved playing quarterback; a kid who, like a lot of other kids during the COVID-19 pandemic, went unseen by college coaches who were kept off the road recruiting.

Make no mistake: Condon made this improbable story happen through talent and sheer force of will. But he had to be in the right place, at the right time, surrounded by the right people.

If Georgia coach Scott Stricklin doesn't take a flier on him, if he doesn't make the most of a challenging redshirt year, if he doesn't then travel 1,200 miles from home for baseball boot camp in the middle of Nowhere, USA, maybe none of this happens. If, if, if …

Take the pandemic. If not for a global shutdown, Paul Fletcher wouldn't have left his job coaching in the Atlantic League. He wouldn't have come home to Marietta and got on with a travel ball program called 6-4-3, coaching the C-Team. He wouldn't have gotten a call from the guy coaching the team one tier above his: "Hey, I got this kid that started hot for the summer. It's his junior year and nobody's looking at him. Could you come over here and see what you think and where we should try to find him a place to play?" 

Fletcher said the coach thought the kid was D-II or NAIA material. He then went to a game to watch Charlie Condon play. 

"Are you out of your mind?!" Fletcher told the coach afterward. "That kid's a first-round draft pick." 

Condon hit a home run, which was impressive in itself. But what sold Fletcher were his three other at-bats, which were all hard line-drives.

Immediately, he got on the phone. Because he played at Tennessee, his first call was to Vols' coach Tony Vitello, telling him, "I got a kid. He's big but a little thin right now. But he's getting stronger." Fletcher said Vitello watched Condon and liked him. But the trailing off "Well …" he got in response to actually bringing him on told him it wasn't going to happen. So Fletcher's next call was to Georgia. Condon told Fletcher it was his dream school and he'd already been accepted on a full academic scholarship. It just so happened that Fletcher knew the head coach, Stricklin, dating back years. 

Fletcher gave Stricklin the same spiel as Vitello, with the added benefit that Condon wouldn't be a risk since his school was paid for. He added, "Scott, I think he's going to be a high draft pick. His work ethic and competitiveness are off the charts.'"

The fact that Fletcher told him, "This one I'll put my name on," was enough for Stricklin to get involved. Fletcher had only called Stricklin about a few prospects in the past, and each time he'd been write. Stricklin watched some clips of Condon and in no time was offering him a chance to walk on. Condon committed on the spot.

"I knew he'd be fine," Stricklin said. "I certainly didn't think and I don't think anyone thought he'd be the possible first pick in the draft, but that's due to what Charlie's been able to do since then."

Condon was already 6-foot-6 when he got to Georgia, but he was raw. He needed time in the weight room. He needed at-bats. It was going to be difficult, but Stricklin believed he needed an entire season to sit on the bench and develop.

A strong fall nearly changed those plans, he hit the ball so well, but an abundance of fifth- and sixth-year seniors who were granted another year of eligibility due to COVID left Condon squeezed in terms of finding a roster spot.

It was aggravating at times, being sidelined despite feeling he was good enough to play. When the team went on road trips, he stayed behind. The monotony wore on him. But Stricklin kept checking in with him, almost every day, encouraging him that he was getting better, that he was doing the right thing. He challenged him, "Three hundred and sixty-five days from now, where do you want to be?"

"I give Scott credit," Fletcher said. "He didn't run the kid out there and mess with him. He was patient. And Charlie listened and bought in and said, 'OK, let's do it.' And they did. 

"It turned out to be the best thing for him."

Looking back, Stricklin said, "It was just another hurdle for him to overcome."

As Georgia posted an impressive 35-20 regular season record, earning a spot in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, Condon packed his bags. Stricklin had gotten him a spot in the Northwoods League and a chance to compete every day.

Condon was like a caged animal. After being pent up for so long, he felt turned loose and ready to play.

Nick Studdard, hitting coach for the St. Cloud in the Northwoods League, remembers Stricklin calling about Condon. Yeah he was redshirt, Stricklin told Studdard and his general manager, "But he's got all the tools." Which left Studdard and the GM confused. The Rox was one of the best teams in the league, responsible for producing the most draft picks. "If he has everything you say he has," Studdard said, "why the hell is he not playing for you?"

"Our team was really not sold on it at all," he explained. "They were like, 'Man, I don't know.' So we decided to send him a contract and deal with the team later — a 14-day contract and if he shows he can do it, we'll take care of him.

"And then he got out here …"

After a four-and-a-half hour bus ride to Waterloo, Iowa -- to a stadium with train tracks beyond the left field foul pole and a cemetery beyond the right field pole -- Condon picked up a wooden bat and hammered a three-run homer in only his second plate appearance.

"It was over center field, which is like 395 feet and has a 30- or 40-foot tall fence," Studdard recalled. "Everyone was like, 'Oh, shit! OK, Charlie.' Because, again, he hadn't played a live game in over a year."

Back in Athens, cheers erupted inside the Bulldogs' locker room where teammates were watching a livestream of the game after practice.

The next day, Condon hit another home run.

"And the rest was history," Studdard said. "He quickly got turned over to a full contract and over that summer, he kind of blossomed as a young redshirt freshman, 18-19 years old, and saw a lot of things."

The Northwoods League is a grind -- 72 games in 80 days, including long bus rides, little fanfare and not a lot to do when there's no games or practice. It's a collegiate summer wooden bat league with the baseball romanticism of the Field of Dreams and the baseball experience of the minor leagues. 

Condon lived with a host family, down in their basement, with a cat who became a pseudo roommate. He felt isolated at times, testing his focus. If he went 0-for-4 at the plate, he had to learn how to flush it and move on.

In ways big and small, each day asked the question: How bad do you really want this?

"Do you want to do this for a living?" Studdard said he asks every prospective player. "If you don't, that's fine. But this might not be the place for you."

Condon's resounding answer was yes, he wanted it all.

Studdard said he had a great attitude, joking around with teammates before practice and leading games during bus rides to kill the time. Studdard remembered one day when Condon said, "Man, it's too hot outside. Anybody want to shave my head?" And he went through with it, buzzing his locks down to the scalp.

For a taste of home, he ate Chick-fil-A constantly.

"That's a Georgia boy for you," Studdard said. "Every day he shows up to the ballpark with it and we're like, 'Again?' And he's like, 'Oh, dude, it's undefeated.'"

Jokes aside, Studdard said, "Come game time, he locked it the hell in."

The bat speed, the barrel control, the plate discipline. Condon had the whole package, to go along with an athletic build and defensive versatility, able to play multiple positions.

Condon became an all-star and was asked to compete in the home run derby. Studdard pitched, marveling with each moonshot, "Oh, shit. There's another one. And there's another one. And there's another one."

He then hit two home runs during the All-Star Game and won MVP.

"That was his breakout moment," Studdard said. "He's doing it with a wood bat and in front of all 32 major league teams. All of the sudden after that, he had five to six scouts at every single home game."

Toward the end of the season, Studdard remembers seeing Condon take a phone call in the dugout. Sitting atop the bench, Condon was grinning from ear to ear. It was Stricklin on the line, letting him know he'd been put on scholarship.

"I told him, 'Congratulations. You've earned this,'" Stricklin recalled.

Charlie Condon with St. Cloud Rox hitting coach Nick Studdard. Condon hit seven homers in 2022 with the St. Cloud Rox. Courtesy of Studdard

Condon cherished his time in St. Cloud.

After a season of watching the game rather than playing, he said, "It was exactly what I needed."

"It got me used to playing an entire schedule, the ups and downs that come with the season" he explained. "And being comfortable in my own skin is what I always said about what the Northwoods helped me with -- learning to be who I am and comfortable with the success and failure that comes with the game." 

Condon came back to Athens a different man, more put together. 

"Physically stronger," Stricklin said. "And the way he carried himself, I think that summer gave him a ton of confidence."

Those three months were the moment where belief turned into reality. He'd finally gotten the opportunity to show his potential, and what a liberating feeling that must have been. 

"I knew he had the tools, it was just a matter of getting out there and doing it," Fletcher said. "He was in heaven. He thrived from it."

He added, "It was definitely what got him going -- by far."

Condon hit his first collegiate home run four games into his redshirt freshman season in 2023. He finished the year with an SEC freshman record 25 homers and a .386 batting average.

He was named SEC Freshman of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, a First Team All-American and earned an invitation to training camp for USA Baseball's Collegiate National team.

His father, Jim, silently worried about the expectations he'd face this season. Would success change or overwhelm Condon?


All he's done is hit 35 home runs -- a record since the NCAA switched to BBCOR bats in 2011 -- and lead Division-I in a smattering of statistics. 

Where Charlie Condon Ranks in Division I
StatisticBatting AverageHome RunsOn-Base %Slugging %
NCAA Rank1st (.443)1st (35)3rd (.558)1st (1.043)

Condon is also first in total bases (219), thirteenth in RBI (75) and No. 33 in base on balls (50). 

Stricklin said he'd take him with the top pick in the 2024 MLB First-Year Player Draft (the Cleveland Guardians have the first pick). Condon has such good pitch recognition, he guessed he has 20/12 vision.

"I hope he goes No. 1," Stricklin said. "I think he certainly deserves it. I know that the kid at Oregon State [Travis Bazzana] is also a really really good player. Jac Caglianone at Florida, I think any other year he's No. 1. Braden Montgomery, I think any other year he's No. 1. Hagen Smith at Arkansas, too. I mean, there's five or six guys that really stand out on this draft and I think all of them could be number one, but I'm certainly rooting for Charlie."

Part of why Stricklin feels that way is Condon's attitude, calling him the highest-level character player he's had in 26 years of coaching. 

In some ways, he still carries himself like a walk-on.

Stricklin remembers standing around the batting cage late in Condon's breakout year — after all the home runs, each seemingly proving someone in the college baseball world wrong for overlooking him. Stricklin said he elbowed Condon and asked, "Hey, man, did you see this coming."

Condon laughed and said, "No. No, I didn't."

"That's just who he is," Stricklin said. "He's not a pound-his-chest guy. He's not a look-at-me guy. He is the most humble kid you've ever met. I can't think of a more deserving kid I've ever been around, what he's getting right now."

MORE: Condon is easily the best hitting prospect in the Athens regional. Will he face its top pitching prospect?