On the day softball player Jaiden Fields moved into her on-campus dorm, her older brother, Justin, moved out of his room on the University of Georgia campus.
“That was a bittersweet day,” their father, Pablo Fields, said of that moment on Jan. 3, 2019. “There were some highs and lows. I drove a truck full of the stuff she needed to fill a dorm room, and her mom decorated her room and put lights on the wall. I took the same truck across the parking lot and put Justin’s stuff in it.”
The entire Fields family, including Pablo’s wife, JoAnn, and younger daughter, Jessica, started a 589-mile drive to Columbus, Ohio. After spending the night in Knoxville, Tennessee, they arrived at Ohio State the next day. JoAnn Fields dreamed of her two older children attending the same college. For a while, it seemed that would happen. Jaiden committed to Georgia during the summer before her freshman year at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia.
“Nobody had even heard of Justin back then,” Pablo said.
It wasn’t long before every college football coach in the FBS knew about him. As a star quarterback at Harrison High, Justin was the No. 1 prospect in the 2018 ESPN 300 and committed to Georgia in October 2017. But after spending one season as the backup quarterback to Jake Fromm, Justin decided to transfer to Ohio State.
“My wife kept crying the whole day because her dream was now shattered,” Pablo said. “They were never going to do it, but she pictured them having picnics in the courtyard and her two kids going to the same place. I was in the doghouse. It was a weird day.”
More than two years later, no one in the Fields family is second-guessing the decision.
Justin had a 20-2 record as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback and led them to consecutive appearances in the College Football Playoff (2019, 2020) for the first time in school history. He was the 11th selection of April’s NFL draft by the Chicago Bears.
Now, a sophomore, Jaiden has emerged as one of the Bulldogs’ best players. With a .315 batting average, seven homers and 22 RBIs this season, she helped propel Georgia to its fifth appearance in the Women’s College World Series last week by hitting a home run in each of its victories over No. 4 Florida in an NCAA super regional.
“I’ve been seeing, ‘That’s Jaiden Fields’ brother, not Justin Fields’ sister,'” said Jaiden, whose Bulldogs, the seventh unseeded team to reach the WCWS, lost their opener to fifth-seeded Oklahoma State on Thursday and need to beat top-seeded Oklahoma on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN/ESPN App) to stave off elimination. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, you know.’ Making a name for myself is nice.”
Jaiden never considered transferring from Georgia after her brother left — she had been attending camps there since the fourth grade and had been committed to the Bulldogs for four years.
“It had nothing to do with her,” Pablo said. “She’s her own person and they’re mini-adults. She loved Georgia since the fourth grade, probably more so than him. He had been recruited for four or five months, and she had built relationships for years and years. There was no wavering for her.”
The siblings were exceptionally close, and competitive, growing up. Jaiden said she raced her brother home from the bus stop and up and down the stairs. They raced to see who could finish dinner first. She was excited to attend the same college as Justin, but supported his decision to leave.
After redshirting in 2019, Jaiden was mostly used as a pinch-hitter in 16 games last year before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down spring sports. This season, she had her breakout moments, including hitting three home runs on the same day — her first career homer as a pinch-hitter in a 6-5 win against UAB, followed by two more, including a grand slam, in a 9-0 victory vs. Mercer on March 6. The biggest so far came on April 20, when she delivered a two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to lead the Bulldogs to a 7-6 upset of No. 1 Oklahoma, which snapped the Sooners’ 40-game winning streak.
Jaiden Fields’ walk-off single in the ninth inning gifts No. 22 Georgia an upset win over No. 1 Oklahoma (7-6), ending the Sooners’ historic streak.
“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Jaiden said. “I think it just took some time. I remember being nervous a lot of times as a pinch-hitter last year. The more times I’m in the box, the more comfortable I’ve become.”
Her at-bats were limited over the final month of the regular season, after she was replaced in the lineup by senior Mackenzie Puckett following a 13-3 loss to Alabama on May 1. Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer sometimes gauges starting spots by how some players perform in practice drills.
“Jaiden is a fierce competitor from the get-go,” Harris-Champer said. “She had been training very well and earned the opportunity to get back into the game. I’m really proud of her because she has had a great mindset and is very selfless. She gets her chance, and she does an outstanding job for us.”
Georgia lost its final seven games before the NCAA tournament, but then knocked off Western Kentucky and beat No. 13 Duke twice in a regional in Athens, Georgia. Then, Jaiden got the start at Florida on Friday and smacked a pitch over the center-field wall to score Georgia’s first run in a 4-0 victory. The next day, she hit another solo homer in the second inning of a 6-0 win.
— Justin Fields (@justnfields) May 28, 2021
Pablo, who was attending his younger daughter’s AAU basketball tournament in Fayetteville that day, considers himself bad luck, so he doesn’t attend many of Jaiden’s games and rarely watches her at-bats on TV. “If I watch the first at-bat and she strikes out or grounds out, she’s got two more that I don’t have to watch,” he said.
He did watch her first at-bat against Florida on Saturday in a bathroom stall at that Fayetteville gym.
“I’m in the stall just going crazy,” he said. “I’m yelling, ‘Yes, sir!’ They were looking at me like I was crazy coming out of the stall, but I couldn’t help it.”
Georgia fans likely dreamed of one of the Fields’ kids leading the Bulldogs to a national championship.
They still might get their wish.