The Daily Gamecock ● FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2010
The Ray Tanner Story Former players, coaches share tale of USC’s legendary head coach, now entering 14th season at helm Chris Cox
South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner is about one thing: winning. His pedigree on the baseball diamond in Columbia speaks for itself. The numbers don’t lie when it comes to Tanner. Entering his 14th season at the helm of Gamecock baseball, Tanner has collected 580 victories in the garnet and black, has led USC to 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, seven Super Regional appearances and three appearances in the College World Series. But the buck doesn’t stop there for Tanner. He has captured two Southeastern Conference Championships, one SEC Tournament Championship and a National Championship appearance during his time in Columbia. His .686 winning percentage is the third-highest in SEC history. During the last decade, 19 Gamecocks have been featured on the All-America list. Only three other teams in college baseball have won more games over the last decade than South Carolina. But Tanner’s impressive résumé doesn’t end there. While Gamecock fans may love Tanner for his accomplishments on the diamond, his tenure at South Carolina goes far beyond wins and losses. Tanner’s extraordinary impact on the players and assistant coaches that have come and gone through USC is a tale that can’t simply be summed up through trophies, All-America honors and championship appearances. It can only be summed up through the words of those that have experienced Tanner’s coaching and life philosophy’s firsthand. This is their story.
-Let ‘em play, let ‘em coachRay Tanner has worked with some experienced guys during his time as a player and coach. A three sport star in high school, Tanner’s athletic abilities earned him a baseball scholarship at North Carolina State, where he played under the legendary Sam Esposito. There, he was able to take away the philosophies he still uses to this day. “I think we’re all a product of our environment. We’re all a product of our relationships and associations in years past,” Tanner said. “That’s sort of the formulation of what I acquired over those years and experiences. You have different coaching styles and different philosophies, but at the end of the day I think you have to surround yourself with good people.” While Tanner certainly surrounded himself with talented players and assistant coaches, his philosophy of letting players play and coaches coach has enabled his program to reach unprecedented heights. “The thing that I loved so much about working for Ray, from day one, was Ray let his assistant coaches work,” former assistant coach Monte Lee said, who now is the head coach at College of Charleston. “He doesn’t feel like he has to make all the decisions. He really delegates his responsibilities.” Tanner’s ability to allow his coaches to make decisions on their own has been helpful for each of them — as five former assistants are now head coaches. “I think as smart as he is, he understood that if he let myself and the others coach, as a whole we were going to be more productive and accomplish more,” former pitching coach Jerry Meyers said. “It’s hard to do everything yourself, and you have to have good people around you.” Meyers, now the coach at Old Dominion, believes Tanner’s ability to listen to the people around him has proven to be one of his greatest assets. That may never have been truer for Kip Bouknight, who was struggling as a freshman — and struggling bad. As fall practice concluded, Bouknight entered Tanner’s office for the traditional wrap-up interview, where each player would discuss with Tanner where they currently stood on the team. So when Bouknight approached, he wrote on a piece of paper that he believed he had done enough to earn a spot as a midweek starter. Tanner looked down at the piece of paper, looked back at Bouknight, and released stinging words. “He looked at it and said, ‘Bouknight, you’re crazy,’” he recalled. “And I said, ‘what do you mean?’ And he said, ‘look where you wrote yourself. Your fall sucked.’” Bouknight, whose fall earned run average was 22.22, was hurting. But he wasn’t going to give in just yet. “I said, ‘I understand that, coach Tanner. But I’ll be your best pitcher on this team.’ And he looked at me, and boy I’m telling you, it got heated,” Bouknight said. But the words, however harsh they may have been, pushed Bouknight to work harder. He made the travel roster and then picked up two wins in relief against Tennessee. The next Friday night, he started against No. 3 Alabama. He never relinquished his ace spot. “For me to sit here and tell you that I knew it was all going to work out, I can’t tell you that. But it did in his case,” Tanner said. “He had adversity, he grew from it. It was one of those deals where you give up or you bat down the hatches and move forward. And he obviously had a great career after that.” Great career was an understatement. Bouknight became USC’s all-time leader in wins (45) and went 17-1 in his fi nal season in the garnet and black. That season, he was named the Louisville Slugger Player of the Year, Rawling Player of the Year, SEC Player of the Year and an All-American. “He’s a player’s coach. If you believe in something and you want to say it to him, his door is always open,” said Bouknight,
who’s now retiring. “You may not get the answer back from him that you want to get, but you certainly are able to speak your mind if you want to.” But Tanner’s philosophy didn’t just hinge on listening to his players. It hinged on letting them have fun, too. “I used to stage dive before the games from the right field fence into the group of guys before the game during 2001. Most people would not let players do that,” former first baseman Trey Dyson said. “Coach Tanner acted like he didn’t see what was going on, but he knew what was going on. I would seriously stage dive. I would get on top of the fence and jump into the group of players before the game when we were all about to take the field.” Tanner didn’t let players have fun at just games, but in practice, too. “During practice, we would be yelling and screaming and just have the I think we’re all be st t i me i n t he a product of our world. I f you go back and watch the environment. practices we had, a nd t hen watch We’re all a a t y pica l col lege product of our tea m pract ice, it was completely relationships and n i g h t a n d d a y,” Dyson said. “We associations in were yel l i ng a nd years past. screaming and just having the time of our lives for every Ray Tanner, USC baseball coach practice instead of it being a monotonous thing. It was just an awesome time.” If Tanner wasn’t careful, he’d get caught up in it, too. That’s what happened in 2000, when the Gamecocks salvaged a Sunday afternoon affair at LSU, preventing the Tigers from sweeping the No. 1-ranked Gamecocks. “All those people that we saw driving into the park on Sunday were all still out there and kind of acting mad that they lost,” Dyson said. “And coach Tanner got up out of his seat at the front of the bus and just started going off like in the bus at all the fans. Asking them where their brooms were. It was hilarious.” Naturally, with the amount of fun the team was having, coupled with the wins seemingly piling up by the day, players developed an affectionate nickname for their head coach. Calves and forearms. “Coach Tanner is a bit of a stocky fella,” former outfielder Garris Gonce said. “To be honest with you, when I got there the chant was already there. You just have fun with it, wherever these things came from.” The name derived from the notion that Tanner’s stature was nothing but giant calves and giant forearms, naturally. “Still to this day I don’t know if he knows what we were talking about. It was just something we did and we had fun with it,” Dyson said. “I know that for the longest time he didn’t know what we were talking about, but I’m sure by now he knows what it is.” The chant was loudest after victories. And when your team wins over 50 games in one season, chants can become somewhat frequent. “Any time we’d have a big win or something like that, Trey Dyson would always start the chant, ‘calves and forearms! Calves and forearms! Calves and forearms!” former pitcher Blake Taylor laughed. “He would never look at the back of the bus. He would walk in, he would sit down and he would wait for everyone to be quiet.” The loudest may have come in 2002. After defeating Clemson consecutive times to reach the National Championship, it seemed like nothing was more appropriate to say other than “calves and forearms.”
“Everybody started clapping their hands and stuff while he was getting on the bus,” former pitcher Matt Campbell recalled. “So he’s getting on the bus, and here’s everybody yelling calves and forearms. And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening.’”
-The helperAs fun as times may have been, Campbell knew that Tanner was far from just big arm and leg muscles. He saw the other side when one of his best friends, and his catcher for years, wasn’t recruited by South Carolina. But Tanner brought him in anyway, and awarded him with a manager-type position. He was given workout clothes, a tutor to assist him and practically everything else any normal player would have. But things didn’t work out. “My buddy didn’t exactly do his end in the classroom and flunked out of school the first semester,” Campbell said. “He shut down classes after two weeks. After coach Tanner had given him a wonderful opportunity to be apart of the team.” But he was able to eventually turn his life around. And after enrolling in school at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, he sought the assistance of Tanner in helping out the Eagles baseball team. Tanner obliged. After contacting him for the first time since leaving, Tanner was glad to put in a good word for the person who just a short time beforehand seemed destined for a dark path. “That always stuck out in my mind, because here is this guy that couldn’t help out the team really, couldn’t help out coach Tanner and really just blew his opportunity,” Campbell said. “I was surprised he even responded to him. But coach Tanner wanted to lend a helping hand to someone like that. That always said a lot about who coach Tanner is.” But helping out is just what Tanner does. It’s ingrained in his personality. “You want people to do what’s best for them. And sometimes, it may not be in your best interest. I like to see people thrive,” Tanner said. “And sometimes you turn the page. People change professions, change schools. I like to help out.” It wasn’t just him that Tanner helped out. When former assistant coach Stuart Lake was seeking a paying position with another team, Tanner went out of his way to contact a school within his conference in coach Mike Bianco at Ole Miss. “You don’t think about him coming back to beat you,” Tanner said. “You just think about how deserving and how hard they’ve worked and the investment they’ve made to deserve a step up the professional ladder.” But no matter how deserving he actually was, Lake knew the biggest reason why he was finally able to climb up the professional ladder and move on. “Coach Bianco told me at Ole Miss, ‘you know why you got hired? Because of Coach Tanner,’” Lake said. “And that meant a lot to me and I always worked hard to make him proud of that.” -The Flying FungoIt was 110 degrees outside. The definition of scorching couldn’t even do the weather justice. The Gamecocks were in Hoover, A la., for the SEC Tournament preparing to take on Mississippi State in their opening game. Middle of May. Alabama. 110 degrees. Naturally, folks were sweaty. So after doing his pregame warm-ups, Blake Taylor headed to the infield to hit balls at the position players. Tanner had just finished throwing batting practice. So, to rest himself from the heat pouring down on him, he sat on a bucket nearby. “I was getting a bird’s eye view of a swing, trying to break down the view of a swing,” Tanner said. “And all of the sudden I see this weapon come flying through the air at me.” That weapon was a Fungo bat. And it had come off the hands of Taylor, whose sweaty palms were unable to firmly grasp the bat.
JAlan Tauber / THE DAILY GAMECOCK
USC coach Ray Tanner speaks with outfielder Jackie Bradley during Carolina’s game against Old Dominion on March 10, 2009.
The Daily Gamecock ● FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2010 “I hit the ball and my hands are soaking wet, and the bat comes out of my hand and the little end of the bat hits coach Tanner behind the ear,” Taylor said. “And he falls off the bucket. And he gets up fuming mad. I mean just blistering mad. But he doesn’t say a word. He sits down on the bucket and does not say a word.” The sight of Tanner on the ground, however funny, still made Taylor nervous. “I feel terrible, and there is nothing I can say to make it better,” Taylor said. “I keep hitting the Fungos, and obviously dry my hands off and put some tape on the Fungo bat so it won’t slip out of my hand.” The heat was the focus of everyone out there, so naturally, everyone thought the heat was what knocked Tanner off his seat. “We really thought that he had collapsed [because of the temperature],” Lake said. “Because no one saw him get hit.” Thank f ully for Taylor, Tanner never noticed that he was the culprit. But Taylor felt otherwise. The Columbus, Ga., native didn’t pitch until the fifth and final game of the tournament, when Taylor started for the right to put USC in the Championship Game. “He didn’t say a word until it’s the final game against Mississippi State,” Taylor said. “So he’s out of pitching at this point. I haven’t pitched yet. So he doesn’t come tell me, Coach Meyers comes down and tells me.” Taylor threw eight and a third innings of one-run ball, the only one being unearned. But USC lost in the end, and according to Taylor, Tanner didn’t speak to him for an entire week. “He didn’t talk to me until the next week when we got ready for our hosting of Central Florida,” Taylor said, cackling at memory. “But he finally talked to me the next week. That’s a pretty good one.” Tanner, an obviously imposing figure, believes Taylor’s memory is flawed. “He’s exaggerating. I probably was mad with him but he was exaggerating,” Tanner said, laughing. “He was probably nervous for a week.
It wasn’t me, it was him.” But Taylor’s fear was certainly short lived. After two highly successful seasons in the garnet and black, Taylor found his potential career on the line against North Carolina in the NCAA Regionals. Not wanting him and his fellow seniors to end on a losing note, Taylor compiled an impressive Regional performance against the Tar Heels — picking up a complete game against the cross-state rival. What followed summed up the type of person Tanner was to Taylor. “He came up to me after the game and gave me a hug. And that definitely showed the other side of coach Tanner,” Taylor said. “That was an emotional moment for myself.” Tanner, who says he’s far from a “touchy, feely guy,” explained it as something deserving to a person whom “did it right.” “His performance was extraordinary. It wasn’t a good one, it was extraordinary,” Tanner said. “I think that was my reward to him. To let him know, ‘what you’ve just done is not just a good weekend but a great weekend. This is extremely special.’”
-The Turning PointFrustration was building around Carolina baseball. For two consecutive years, South Carolina had fallen one game short of the College World Series. Despite a total record of 105-30, including an SEC title, the Gamecocks fell in game three of the Super Regional back-to-back seasons — both by a score of 3-2. Home against Louisiana-Lafayette in 2000. On the road at Stanford in 2001. The location didn’t matter. All that mattered was USC couldn’t get over the hump. There USC was again in 2002, in a game three situation. This time at home to the powerhouse Miami Hurricanes. It was the ninth inning. Carolina trailed 4-1. “I can remember it like it was yesterday. Standing there in that dugout going to the
I can remember it like it was yesterday. Standing there in that dugout going to the ninth and it all flashed. It all flashed back to me that we’ve had a very good program. But we’re staring at three opportunities to go to the College World Series. And it looked bleak.
ninth and it all flashed,” Tanner said. “It all flashed back to me that we’ve had a very good program. But we’re staring at three consecutive opportunities to go to the College World Series [and not making it]. And it looked bleak.” Tan ner had gone about t he pregame differently than in years past. He had to. Everything was on the line. “Before that game, coach Tanner did something he’s never done before. He was pretty good on pep talks before the game, but didn’t really make a huge deal out of it,” Dyson said. “We cut off all the lights in the locker room and he went through a speech and kind of detailed how the game was going to go and what role every player was going to play. He just told us to close our eyes and just to really focus.” But it didn’t look like it would matter. USC trailed by three runs, and was on the verge on becoming the college version of the Atlanta Braves. “It was almost like we could feel all the fans saying ‘here we go again,’” Dyson said. “We’re going to lose on Sunday three straight years in a row. But we never really felt like that. We never ever gave up.” It was a good thing they didn’t give up, too. The ninth had begun. Ping. Double off the bat of Yaron Peters. Ping. Single to right field by Brian Buscher. Ping. Another double by Dyson. All in all, five hits for South Carolina. And a 6-4 lead. And Omaha on the horizon for the first time under Tanner. What was even stranger was the prophet-like prediction of Tanner. Benched as a starter for the first time that season, Dyson was told what his role would be. And it was as right as it could ever possibly be. “Before the game, he told me, with the lights off and everything, that I was going to come off the bench and deliver a big hit in that game. And I did,” Dyson said. “I came in the ninth inning, me and Garris both, and we delivered really big hits that inning that helped us win that game.”
PAGE 3B Gonce, also benched, can still recall the feeling of the blood rushing through his heart after USC pulled out the thrilling victory. “That Sunday game was definitely the most exciting baseball game I’ve ever been a part of in my life. To me, that game against Miami had more electricity, more everything, than even my Omaha experience,” Gonce said. “To me, that was a game to me that I’ll never forget as long as I’m alive.” But even with his players dog piling near the mound and fans going insane from the stands just feet away, Tanner was still able to impact those around him in ways that surprised even them. Joked on by Tanner since practically the day he arrived, Lake promised his boss that once the Gamecocks finally made it to Omaha, he’d move on from his time as a volunteer assistant and finally get a paying position. Tanner never forgot. “As he’s hugging me he says, ‘I guess you’re leaving.’ And it showed me, that here he is at the highest point of his career, and here’s a comment that was made insignificantly, and he still thought about it,” Lake said. “That meant a lot to me, and I still have that picture framed. He’s a special person.” But the thrilling moments were far from over for the 2002 South Carolina baseball team. Very far from over. “As they say in baseball, things even out,” Tanner said. “And there was still some magic left.”
-OmahaRiding high after their come-from-behind victory over Miami, it didn’t look like anyone would stop the USC train from reaching the Promised Land. And then reality hit. Georgia Tech pitcher Kyle Bakker struck out nine Gamecocks over eight innings in an 11-0 trouncing and USC quickly found itself in the loser’s bracket of the College World Series. “We were obviously disappointed after that Georgia Tech loss, which was the first game in
Ray Tanner, USC baseball coach Alan Tauber / THE DAILY GAMECOCK
Carolina baseball coach looks on as the Gamecocks face Auburn on April 14, 2009. Tanner enters his 14th year as head coach. the College World Series that year,” Dyson said. “But coach Tanner knew he had a good group and part of what made it so enjoyable was because coach Tanner was always involved with what of guys and a good group of loose guys. We just completely shrugged off that loss. And coach was going on. The commitment that he has is second to none. He’s the best out there.” Tanner completely had confidence in us, and we could definitely tell that.” The confidence showed, as USC battled back with two consecutive victories over Nebraska and -Family ManGeorgia Tech to advance to the semifinals. Ray Tanner knows a thing or two about family. With three kids of his own, Gracie, Maggie and “I remember, we got whitewashed in the first game against Georgia Tech,” Tanner said. “And Luke, Tanner knows what it takes to be a loving father figure. then we sort of relaxed and started playing some baseball and had a pretty good run there.” But his experience as a father goes far beyond his own family. The opponent in the semis? None other than in-state rival Clemson. “Family was important. We had our two daughters during the time we were there,” Meyers “I just felt like at that time the rivalry was outside the Palmetto State, now it was on a national said. “He watched my oldest daughter when we went to the hospital to have our second daughter. stage,” Tanner said. “Both teams wanted to win. But I remember our guys becoming very It was KK [Karen Tanner] and Ray-Ray. Our two girls love them dearly, and I think they still do.” comfortable. I certainly wasn’t going to do anything as a Meyers’ children would even occasionally sleep over coach to make them tense.” with the Tanners. And maybe pick up few unwanted On the biggest stage in one of college baseball’s biggest mannerisms along the way. rivalries, South Carolina wore Clemson out, outscoring the “One of my greatest moments about family is after Tigers 22-6 in two consecutive games to eliminate CU and coach Meyers had the two little girls, they had spent the advance to the National Championship against Texas. night with us one night,” Tanner said. “I’ll never forget, “We really had fun with it and played great,” Tanner said. she and I were sitting at the bar having cereal the next “We just played great. I mean we didn’t do anything wrong morning, and not thinking after I had finished my cereal, for two games then got in a position to play Texas.” I drank the milk out of the bowl. And she saw me, and she It was the latter innings that proved decisive for the drank the milk out of her bowl. Gamecocks. Through the first four innings in each game, And I said, “‘don’t tell your mom and dad you did that.’ Carolina only outscored the Tigers 9-5. In the innings after It’s just a classic, classic moment.” that, USC outscored its rival 13-1. As a whole, the Tanner and Meyer families were “The games themselves, people look at the fi nal scores extremely close — both on and of the field. and think that we got ‘em and ran away with ‘em,” Gonce “We came there and we started our family there. Our said. “But people that look back remember that they were two daughters were born there,” Meyers said. “Karen and really close games. We just tacked a couple [of runs] on late.” Ray were extremely supportive for the eight years that we Heading to the National Championship for the first time spent there. Outside of baseball, we couldn’t have been under Tanner, the Gamecocks were facing a daunting task treated any better or been in a better situation. They’re against the heavily favored Longhorns. But depleted bullpen, the godparents to our kids.” PHOTO COURTESY OF USC SPORTS INFORMATION tired team and all, USC showed up anyway. And turned to Members of South Carolina’s baseball team dogpile after beating Miami But it isn’t just Meyers’ family that Tanner has true freshman Aaron Rawl to pitch the Gamecocks to their (Fla.) to advance to the College World Series during the 2002 season. developed a bond with. first championship. Every time Gonce would visit with Tanner, the coach “I would have never expected it, because a lot of times would ask about how his pupil was doing. Now, a different freshmen come in there knowing that coach Tanner doesn’t like freshmen,” Rawl said. “For him person is the focus of his questions. to give me the ball in the Championship Game, I didn’t see it coming.” “When I used to bump into coach Tanner, it was always, ‘how are you? How’s this, how’s that?’” It was a surprise to Rawl, who found out in an unusual situation. Gonce said. “But he doesn’t want to talk about me anymore. I recently had a baby and all he wants “He called me the night before in the hotel room and asked how I felt,” Rawl said. “I told him I to talk about is, ‘how’s that baby doing?’” felt alright. He said, ‘Good. You’ve got the ball tomorrow. Don’t let me down.’ I said, ‘Oh, crap.’” According to former players, his hard-nosed attitude on the field of play has relatively softened Rawl pitched valiantly, and USC trailed by just two after seven and half innings before Texas in recent years, and Tanner’s personal experiences may have something to do with it. tacked on four runs in the bottom of the eighth to pull away. “That’s one thing, I think, that maybe has toned him down,” Gonce said. “He’s definitely more “We were so worn out that Sunday game from fighting back through the losers bracket. We laid back now than he used to be. I think a lot of that is him being a father now. He loves it so were just exhausted,” Dyson said. “We really didn’t have pitching left, and we gave it our best shot much and I think that’s put everything into perspective.” Through his work, Tanner helped create the Ray Tanner Foundation in 2005. A non-profit but unfortunately it wasn’t good enough.” It was enough, however, to make it back. Two more consecutive years. Qualifying in both 2003 organization, the Ray Tanner Foundation’s goal is to assist families with medically disadvantaged and 2004, the Gamecocks became a mainstay of the College World Series, and again advanced to children in financial struggle. “Through our foundation in the community, my wife and I, we try to reach out as much as we the semifinals in 2004, this time against California State Fullerton. “It was phenomenal,” Meyers said of the Omaha run. “It was just a great run, it was a lot of fun TANNER ● 7B
The Daily Gamecock ● FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2010
Experience key for new squad Veteran leaders look to put USC in College World Series for first time since 2004 Ed Neuhaus
THE DAILY GAMECOCK
The Gamecock baseball team enters the 2010 season with a few holes to plug and some injuries to overcome. The team will need production from some new players as well as some old ones if it’s going to succeed on offense as well as defense. Going around the horn and starting at catcher, Kyle Enders returns for his senior season. It will be hard for the team to replace Justin Dalles, who hit for a .324 average and 15 home runs last year, but Enders believes his veteran leadership will be helpful. “I’ve been around the program a long time and I just hope I can help the younger guys a little bit throughout this year,” Enders said. First base is a question mark for the Gamecocks, as the status of senior Nick Ebert is undetermined as of this moment. Coach Ray Tanner has indicated that a number of players could spend time at the position, including senior Jeffery Jones, sophomore Michael Roth, and junior Parker Bangs. At second base, juniors Scott Wingo and Adrian Morales will be battling it out, after Wingo spent most of the time at that position in 2009. Wingo only hit for a .196 average last season, but Tanner has indicated that in fall practice, it was actually Wingo who out-hit Morales. At shortstop, senior Bobby Haney returns after earning second team all-SEC honors in 2009. Haney managed a .291 average as a junior, playing in all 63 of Carolina’s games. Third base will be something new for Carolina, as freshman Christian Walker will be given the shot to start at the hot corner for the Gamecocks. Tanner believes that Walker can succeed despite the fact he’s so young, but won’t be hesitant to make moves if needed. “We’re going to see how he does. If it doesn’t
CF: Whit Merrifield
LF: Robert Beary Evan Marzilli
SS: Bobby Haney
2B: Scott Wingo
3B: Christian Walker go a s we a nt ic ipate defensively, we’ll make some moves over there,” Tanner said. In left f ield, Robert Bear y looks to be the starter on opening day for the Gamecocks. Beary is a junior college transfer whom Tanner called “a great competitor.” Freshman Evan Marzilli also could spend some time at the position as well. The return of sophomore outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. to active duty could change things up for Carolina. I n center f ield, ju n ior W h it Merrif ield returns for the Gamecocks. Merrifield finished w it h a .34 0 average a nd 11 home r u ns as a sophomore in 2009. The North Carolina native is expected to bat leadoff in the batting order for Carolina. His versatility means that he’ll also play some time in the infield if needed. But Merrifield has no preference as far as position is concerned. “Whatever is going to help our team. Wherever he wants me is where I’ll play,” Merrifield said. In right field, the Gamecocks will be missing Bradley for the next four to eight weeks due to a hand injur y. Bradley hit .349 with 11 home runs last year on his way to being. Sophomore Adam Matthews will take over the position in Bradley’s absence. But Bradley, named a 2009 Freshman All-American last year, was clear about his expectations for the team overall this year. “I expect us to play every game as hard as we can. We’ve got 56 games, and hopefully by the end of the year we’ll see where we stand out and have a chance at Omaha,” Bradley said.
Comments on this story? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
RF: Adam Matthews
1B: Jeffery Jones DH: Parker Bangs C: Kyle Enders
P: SP - Blake Cooper SP - Sam Dyson SP - Tyler Webb SP - Jay Brown RP - Nolan Belcher RP - Parker Bangs RP - Ethan Carter RP - Jose Mata RP - Steven Neff
Sam Bennett / THE DAILY GAMECOCK
Shortstop Bobby Haney connects for a grand slam in South Carolina’s 20-6 victory over the College of Charleston Cougars on April 14, 2009.
USC veterans take mound Cooper, Dyson headline new-look pitching staff Chris Bilko
Assembling a pitching staff that can consistently perform in every single game is tough to achieve in the sport of baseball. At the beginning of the 2010 season, there are some question marks concerning the South Carolina pitching staff. Luckily, the team has two veterans returning to anchor the rotation in the form of junior right-hander Sam Dyson and senior right-hander Blake Cooper. “Dyson and Cooper are guys at the front,” said coach Ray Tanner. “(They) combine to form a very experienced 1-2 punch in the rotation.” Dyson, who earned Preseason All-American honors, is the flamethrower of the bunch. He earned nine wins last season and even gave up a big contract in the MLB to come back for his junior season with the Gamecocks. An issue with Dyson is that he is coming off surgery, so he may be used minimally at the beginning of the season. “Sam Dyson I think is okay,” Tanner said. “I’m probably more cautious with him than anybody. We’re trying to hold him back right now. He’s likely to be available the opening weekend but we’ll probably have him on a shorter leash.” Cooper, the opening day starter, is also coming off a good season himself. Cooper also had nine wins last season and is looking to extend that number. The senior has defi nitely earned his stripes for the garnet and black, becoming one of only 18 USC pitchers to have more than 20 wins in his career. Rather than lighting up the radar gun, Cooper pitches like Greg Maddux and uses his control to get outs. “Blake had a strong fall and looked as good in the fall as he had in his entire career here,” Tanner said. “He worked hard in the summer to improve his conditioning and we are looking for him to become a double-digit winner in 2010.” The surprise starter in the weekend rotation was freshman left-handed pitcher Tyler Webb. Webb, who stands at an imposing 6-feet-6-inches, is the only current southpaw in the projected five-man rotation. In weekend games, sixth-year senior Jay Brown (3-0, 3.35 ERA in 2009), sophomore Steven Neff and freshman Ethan Carter are projected to get the most action. “Brown fi nished the 2009 season strong for us and he is a candidate for a spot in the rotation,” said Tanner. Possibly the biggest question mark for the Gamecocks this year is who will close out games for the squad. After last years debacle against East Carolina in the NCAA Regionals, USC w i l l be looking for a consistent workhorse who can flame out any hope of an opponent rally. One name who was been mentioned is sophomore lefty Nolan Belcher, who was a starter last year, compiling a 5-6 record in the process. “I think Nolan is much like Whit Merrifield; he can do some things maybe that other people can’t,” Tanner said. “From a pitching standpoint he can pitch in the bullpen. He will embrace that if we do that. I don’t know if we’re going to do that.” But the surprise name was junior transfer John Taylor. According to Tanner at Thursday’s media availability, Tanner named the right-handed transfer from Florence Darlington Tech as the team’s closer to begin the season. “If we’re winning by three runs or less (today), John Taylor is in at the end of the game,” Tanner said. “He’s proven to be the guy so far that is most accustomed to fitting that role.” Junior right-hander Parker Bangs and sophomore left-hander Michael Roth have also been mentioned to be in the running to close out games. At this point it seems like the team will employ a closer by committee. What seems like a mystery now, will probably be revealed in the middle of the season in the form of a closer.
Weekend rotation: Friday: Sr. RHP Blake Cooper (9-4, 4.50 ERA in 2009) Saturday: Jr. RHP Sam Dyson (9-4, 5.21 ERA in 2009) Sunday: Fr. LHP Tyler Webb (No career stats)
The Daily Gamecock ● FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2010
USC basketball faces off against Vols Gamecocks face must-win situation against nationally-ranked Tennessee Ryan Velasquez STAFF WRITER
As January came to a close, the Gamecocks were in a rejuvenated state of mind. Despite the loss of two veteran players early in the season, they had just beaten then-No. 1 Kentucky, had a potential National Player of the Year candidate in senior Devan Downey and had seemingly fought their way back into the NCAA Tournament picture. Three weeks later, it couldn’t be more different. Heading into Saturday’s matchup with No. 20 Tennessee, Carolina finds itself in the midst of a two-game losing streak and virtually out of the running for an at-large tournament bid. Preparing to face one of the best teams in the conference, the Gamecocks will look to build on what they’ve done well in recent games and improve on what they haven’t.
“Tonight, offense wasn’t the problem. We shot the ball pretty well for the most part, made some shots early on,” USC coach Darrin Horn said following Wednesday’s loss to Arkansas. “We shot collectively pretty well from the three. We scored 79 points, but we have to defend better.” Carolina’s success will likely depend on the play of Downey, who has continued to rack up points in recent games but has struggled to make a high proportion of his shots. In his last four outings, the senior has shot a mere 31 percent from the field. “I don’t think it’s any one particular thing in terms of defenses, because we’ve seen a ton of different kinds. There was a stretch when he was making all of those good looks and lately some of those haven’t fallen,” Horn said. “But we don’t have any concerns about Devan at all. He’s a great competitor and really wants to win. He’s going to come out every night like that.” A bright spot in recent games has been the play of Carolina’s freshmen. Called upon early in the season after the loss of Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes , their development on both ends of the court has been a major asset
down the stretch. “I think they’ve been outstanding. Lakeem Jackson continues to be a solid performer for us. Even though the numbers aren’t always great, he brings us energy and toughness and comes up with some key plays at key times,” Horn said. “Ramon Galloway and Stephen Spinella have also continued to gain confidence and give us positive things. I think those guys, especially with what they got thrust into, have fared pretty well.” The Gamecocks (14-11, 5-6) face a Tennessee (19-6, 7-4) team that’s lost two of its last three and will be looking to build on Wednesday’s win over Georgia as it tries to make a late push in the SEC East standings. “It was very important to get this win tonight at home, because we know what lies ahead going to South Carolina,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “We have to find a way to play better there than we did tonight.” Tipoff is at 1:30 p.m. Comments on this story? E-mail email@example.com
Opening Day brings excitement, new hopes Gamecocks, fans alike cherish baseball’s greatest event Today is t he day when hope springs eternal. Today is the day when everybody’s undefeated. Today is the day when winter’s grasp is broken. Today is the day where, if you look off in the distance, you can see all the way to Omaha. Today is Opening Day. The late, great John Updike once compared the first day of a baseball season to a first kiss. The man who so eloquently told us of the Hub fans bidding the K id adieu couldn’t have been more correct. A lot of James t h i ng s i n spor t s a re overKratch romanticized into overk ill. Second-year English student But Opening Day isn’t one of them. There is no event in sports more magical and cosmic than the fi rst day of a baseball season. It is more than just Game No. 1; it is the one instance in time when all is right with the world. It is the one moment when,
if only for a precious while, anything and everything is right there for the taking. Opening Day is a constant. Each year around this time, our national pastime helps carry us from winter’s dreary darkness into spring’s airy light. Oozing of optimism and wonderment, no matter who you are, it feels like next year has fi nally come on Opening Day. T he t wo tea m s today a re goi ng i n completely different ways. South Carolina harbors dreams of Rosenblatt Stadium and a trip to the College World Series. Duquesne is beginning what will likely be its final season ever due to athletic department budget cuts. But yet, today, they’re both on the same footing, 0-0 with the whole world in front of them when they take the field at Carolina Stadium this afternoon. “It’s a great feeling,” USC freshman lefty Tyler Webb , who will start Sunday, said of Opening Day. “You’ve got to love the atmosphere around here. It’s going to be a great time. “I feel like you’ve just got to get those jitters out the first day. After all the opening ceremonies and st uf f, it’s just anot her
baseball game.” Speaking of opening ceremonies, today will be no different than any other opener: full of pageantry and history. The ceremonial fi rst pitch will be handled by USC legend Kip Bouknight, celebrating the anniversary of his Golden Spikes Award-winning 2000 campaign , where he helped lead USC to Tanner’s first SEC championship. He’ll be followed up by senior hurler Blake Cooper — a guy who USC coach Ray Tanner compares to Bouknight. “I read it in the paper the other day, actually,” Cooper said when asked about the comparison. “Kip was a great pitcher here. To be in comparison with him is something good.” The self-proclaimed “bulldog” made a decision after last season to reinvigorate himself, losing weight and hitting the gym. A few months later, he will receive quite possibly the greatest honor a pitcher can receive — starting Opening Day. “It’s a good honor,” Cooper said. “The stadium’s new, the stands are going to be packed. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.” Tanner will be the first to tell you that every single game is important, and his team
plays to that tenet. However, Opening Day carries a lot more juice than most ballgames. “You always want to go out and get a firstday win,” Cooper said. “I just want to go out and give our team a chance to win.” On paper, USC is the better team, without a doubt. However, they certainly can’t take the Dukes, a tough group from the Rust Belt with nothing to lose likely making their last go-round against the big boys, lightly. “We’re playing a team in Duquesne that’s been here enough that they’re comfortable here,” Tanner said. “A s you k now, t he program is being dropped after the season. It’s a little bit dangerous. It’s a very dangerous situation for us.” Today is Opening Day. It’s easy to just dismiss it as another game. There are 55 (and many more, the Gamecocks hope) after the close of business for the day tonight. But to do that would be shortsighted. Today is a day so pure, so hopeful and so wonderful, that you have to stand back and soak it in. “This is what it’s all about,” Tanner said. “This is a rite of spring.” That it is.
The Daily Gamecock ● FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2010 TANNER ● Continued from 3B can,” Tanner said. Tanner, who insists that he’s just a “spoke in the wheel” with the foundation, credits the many people involved with the incredible service the charity has done in the city of Columbia. “He’s always there,” Rawl said. “No matter what event it is, whether it is an appearance, or an auction or anything like that. He’s always there, he’s always involved with it.” All in all, family is key to Tanner. His wife, his children, and the families of those around play integral roles in the way Tanner constructs his life philosophy. Of course, there’s also his other family. What some would say is bigger than all of them. “We have the biggest fraternity in the world over there at Carolina baseball,” Dyson said. “He welcomes everyone. It’s how you would envision a program being built. And coach Tanner has done that from the littlest of things to the biggest of things.” That stems from Tanner, who seeks to develop each individual player from the moment they arrive on campus. “He wants to watch a kid grow up from a 17-year-old kid and walk out a 22-year-old man ready for the real world, be it a job or be it going into minor league baseball,” Taylor said. “You don’t always get that with a lot of coaches.” Campbell agrees. “When I came to school here, he was always like a second father to me, I guess you could say,” Campbell said. “He was always looking out for our best interests. He wants you to succeed on the baseball field but he also wants you to succeed in life.” But it was Bouknight that probably saw that better than anyone. After attending one of Tanner’s camps while he still was coaching at N.C. State, Bouknight became closer with Tanner than he had with any other coach — all because of the dedication and persistence that Tanner and his staff showed with him. “When I got home, I had a hand written letter from coach [Jim] Toman,” Bouknight said. “And I got a hand written letter from him or coach Tanner every week for the next four years. There was a relationship built.” That’s what’s allowed Bouknight’s relationship with coach Tanner to stay as strong as it has been since he departed USC in 2000. “He’s like a father figure to me. He’s been super to me,” Bouknight said. “Even though I was from Columbia and went to school here and had my parents around, he was like the father figure that was able to be with me during practice every single day. It was kind of like having a second dad.”
Photo courtesy of TheRayTannerFoundation.org
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner with wife Karen, children Gracie (left), Luke (middle) and Maggie (right).
-People ChangeWhen a coach does develop that strong bond with a player, it’s difficult when the relationship has to come to a drastic stop. Or when the relationship has to practically be severed completely. That was the case in 2007, when two star freshmen were dismissed from the Gamecock baseball team after being charged with burglary and grand larceny. Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, ranked by Baseball America as the nation’s No. 1 recruit prior to the season, was charged alongside pitcher Nick Fuller in stealing over three thousand dollars worth of meal money from the coach’s locker room. Additionally, three computers were stolen from the Academic Enrichment Center and a flat-screen television, a Playstation 3, a Nintendo Wii and several games were also stolen from the nearby Roost dormitory. Both players were immediately kicked off the team. “His players are disciplined. You don’t hear about Gamecock baseball players getting into trouble very much,” Lee said. “You
SP: Kip Bouknight Went 17-1 in final season as a Gamecock, named SEC Player of the Year and National Player of the Year. All-time career leader in wins by a USC pitcher.
SP: Aaron Rawl Started as a true freshman in the National Championship Game in 2002. Consistent starter during his four years. Made three different appearances in the College World Series.
SP: David Marchbanks Compiled a career record of 31-8, named an All-American pitcher during the 2003 season that saw USC reach the College World Series for the second consecutive season.
Closer: Blake Taylor Led the nation in saves in 2002 with 21 while also earning six victories. Last notable closer during Tanner’s 14-year tenure as head coach.
don’t see those guys, when they play baseball, not respect the game and not represent the University in an A+ manner.” That’s what made it so difficult for Tanner, who had never encountered such drastic problems in his previous seasons at Carolina. “It’s hard, it’s hard, and as much as it hurts me to occasionally discipline a guy, and I don’t like it, don’t feel good about it, I convince myself that it’s the right thing for them,” Tanner said. “It might not be the right thing for me. It might not be the right thing for my program at times. But I always feel like it’s the right thing for them.” While announcing the players’ dismissal atop the stands from Sarge Frye Field that March, an emotional Tanner had to fight off tears and paused several times before getting the next words out. “Struggle. It’s a struggle. You don’t want to take away anything that they’ve done for a long time, and it’s been special to them,” Tanner said. “But I also believe that you’re accountable for your actions.” Chisenhall had started 19 of 20 games for USC, hitting .313 with a homer and 13 RBI. Fuller had not given up a hit or run in his six appearances. But after fighting it for over a year, Tanner’s mind was finally put at peace when he received just a simple letter. That letter — written by Chisenhall — is kept in the back of Tanner’s desk calendar, proving a reminder to him daily that people can, and usually do, change. “He expressed to me how difficult it was for him to not be here after that happened,” Tanner said as he tapped his fingers on the calendar. “But he also expressed how he had grown up and learned that he must be a better man for the entirety of his life. “It was hard for a long time, but after I got that letter, it made it right again for me. I might have done the right thing for him.” Chisenhall went on to find another baseball program. And after a year in the junior college ranks, he stunned everyone when he was taken in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Cleveland Indians. “When that situation happened, when he was dismissed from the team, there was a big concern, a big fear maybe, that he will not continue as a very talented baseball player,” Tanner said. “But he didn’t. And that made me feel good about it. Then I get the letter from him. He’s well on his way. He’s a future big leaguer.”
-“Isn’t that big time?”Tanner’s office at Sarge Frye Field was far from impressive. Despite developing one of the best programs college baseball had to offer, South Carolina baseball was stuck in a stadium that didn’t equal the accomplishments of the team that played in it. It was like the New York Yankees playing at the local high school field. “The office at the Sarge was probably an eight-by-10 room that had a locker for each coach and a shower and a desk. And a chair. A chair. One recliner,” Taylor said. “It was probably classified as a closet in one point in time.” Dyson describes it more as a dark hole than an office for one of the greatest coaches in the game. “It was more like a cubby hole that he had at Sarge Frye Field, compared to the executive suite that he has at Carolina Stadium,” Dyson said. “He had like a little changing area and a little desk, but that was about it. No windows, just staring at concrete the whole time.” The plan was in place for a new stadium, but speed bumps along the way delayed the construction of what would potentially be the Mecca of college baseball. “Some people said, well you should have built it four years ago,” Tanner said. “Things don’t always happen on schedule. I learned that. That never was an issue for me.” But when construction did finally begin, Tanner was there for every step of the way. The day earth was moved. The day the two metal buildings were demolished. The day cement was poured and the day grass was laid. “I was here around the clock,” Tanner said. “Sometimes my input was needed, other times they wished I was somewhere else.” Tanner had become so involved with the project that despite going on vacation to Litchfield Beach, he would follow the webcam online and make phone calls back to Columbia. “That’s when I think the contractor said, ‘this baseball coach is nuts,’” Tanner laughed. Despite the stadium inevitably being ready, it still bothered Tanner that some of the greats around the program weren’t able to experience the venue for themselves. “I wish Sarge was still here. Tom Price, Sarge. [Justin] Smoak and [Reese] Havens missed it,” Tanner said. “We thought maybe they’d sneak in it their last year, they didn’t get a chance to play in it. [Mike] Cisco and those guys.” But Tanner made sure that his nucleus of players would be the first to take in some experience and memory of the field. So before it was ready, he took his big boppers out to the stadium by the river and let them see it for themselves. “We took [batting practice] out here when there was no grass. It just had dirt on the field,” Tanner said. “I just wanted them to be the first guys here. And they were. They were the first guys to take BP in this stadium.” After Havens’ walk off home run against Tennessee officially marked the end of Sarge Frye Field, the time had come for Carolina baseball to finally change homes. “When we finished this stadium there was weeks where there
Alan Tauber / THE DAILY GAMECOCK
South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner speaks to players prior to USC’s game against Auburn on April 18, 2009. was a void,” Tanner said. “Because I was so involved, and we were building this thing for 14 months. And all the sudden it was completed. I’m like, ‘what? We’re finished? There’s got to be something going on.’” Much to Tanner’s surprise, construction was indeed complete and the inaugural season at Carolina Stadium was set to begin. “His new office: It’s beautiful,” Taylor said. “Tanner, he’s pretty quiet about that kind of stuff. I think he’s very proud of his accomplishments, but he’s a very humbled person. And I like that.” Despite remaining mum on his large new office that overlooks the field from the second level, Tanner was sure to provide personal tours to his closest friends. “Getting a tour from him last year, it felt like Christmas morning. He kept saying, ‘look at this, Coach Lake. Look at this,’” Lake said. “He took me in the bathrooms to show me the Gamecock insignia on the stalls. He’d say, ‘isn’t that big time?’ I’d go, ‘yeah, that’s big time.’” Lake, who said the first thing Tanner wanted to show him was the batting cages, is quick to point out what Carolina Stadium says about his former boss. “Every coach I feel has ever worked for him, and every coach that knows him is going to tell you one thing: he deserves it,” Lake said. “He’s a guy that I hope South Carolina realizes what they have in him.”
-The FutureDespite a string of three consecutive appearances in the College World Series, South Carolina baseball has far from sustained itself as a championship-caliber team on an annual basis. The Gamecocks have won over 40 games in each year since their last stint in Omaha, but have failed to qualify for the World Series since that 2004 season. In the last two seasons, they haven’t even reached the Super Regional round. “You know it’s gnawing at him and getting at him,” Dyson said. “But he’s still put the teams in position every year in the postseason and he just hasn’t been able to get over the hump lately.” The most crushing blow may have come in 2008, when USC fell at N.C. State in the Regional round. That team consisted of three players that would be drafted in the first two rounds a month later — headlined by first baseman Justin Smoak , Carolina’s all-time leader in home runs. “It bothered me because it was a very special group. Maybe our pitching staff wasn’t as good as it needed to be at the time,” Tanner said. “But I feel that way about a lot of teams. Omaha was such a great run for us. We’re eager to make that return trip.” Though some fans have shown frustration over the team’s recent inability to reach the top of college baseball, no one’s desire to reach Omaha is greater than Tanner. “Everybody has certain goals and challenges for themselves and I’m sure he’s challenging himself to get back there. That’s where every coach wants to be,” Gonce said. “He wants to stay at the top of his game. I still think he’s the top coach in the nation. You can argue his case against anybody.” To a man, it isn’t necessarily that Tanner himself wants to return, but the 14-year coach of USC baseball wants his players to be able to experience it for themselves. “Once you’ve been there, it really kills you not to go every year. It’s an experience that you can’t describe,” Lake said. “He’s really a coach that’s sincere in that he’d be fine never going back, but he wanted those kids to enjoy that environment. If there was a disappointment, that’s it.” So as the 2010 season gets underway today against Duquesne, new and old players will unite under the same banner in the hopes of getting the Gamecocks back to the College World Series. If not for them, for coach Tanner. The man that has revitalized Carolina baseball both on the field and off. The man that each former player calls a second father. The man that each former coach idolizes. The man that is Carolina baseball. “I just texted him the other night, and that’s how we end it every time,” Lake recalls of his frequent texts with Tanner. ‘See you in Omaha.’ Comments on this story? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
1B: Justin Smoak USC’s all-time leader in home runs, despite playing only three seasons. Was drafted 12th overall by Texas in the 2008 MLB Draft.
2B: Kevin Melillo
OF: Jackie Bradley, Jr. Earned freshman All-American honors last season. Is expected to hit in the middle of the lineup this season. Biggest asset may be his strong throwing arm.
An over .300 hitter for his career. Was a mainstay in the middle infield during the three CWS teams.
OF: Michael Campbell
3B: Brian Buscher
USC career leader in at-bats and games played and also finished second for his career in the USC record books with hits.
Hit 29 total home runs during a span of two seasons. Was an All-American during the 2003 season.
SS: Drew Meyer A first round draft pick by Texas, Meyer was an AllAmerican in 2002 and collected 72 stolen bases while also knocking in 126 RBI.
DH: James Darnell A second round pick by San Diego in 2008, Darnell finished his career with 44 home runs and 162 RBI.
OF: Whit Merrifield Now in his third year in the program, Merrifield has displayed the ability to play multiple positions in the field and has been a mainstay at the top of the batting order.
C: Landon Powell Currently playing for the Oakland Athletics, Powell totaled 44 career home runs and was the starting catcher for all three teams that played in the World Series.