GREENVILLE — Landon Powell found his professional life at a crossroads this summer.
After being released by the New York Mets on June 7, the former University of South Carolina all-American catcher had some calls from other major league clubs. But Powell, who spent this season playing with a heavy heart while with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas, wasn’t inspired to sign elsewhere.
One week after he had signed with the Mets in January, Powell’s 4-month-old daughter Izzy died of a rare autoimmune disease.
On June 21, Powell announced his retirement from the profession in which he had worked for 10 years.
“I needed to start a new chapter in life, and my wife and I really needed to stay home and recover,” said Powell.
Home for the Powells is Greenville, where they live during baseball offseasons, and the path he chose landed him at Furman.
Powell described staying at home and trying to stay involved in baseball as “complicated,” as there were limited options. So Powell contemplated working in the insurance field.
“I could’ve made some pretty good money for my family, but I just have a passion for the game of baseball and I always have,” said Powell. “So I decided to follow that dream rather than cop out for the money.
“Baseball’s been great to me. … I owe a lot to the game of baseball, and I think anyone who ever played the game owes a lot to it.”
As a catcher who threw out 40 percent of would-be base stealers in the big leagues and 44 percent in the minors, it seems natural that Powell’s baseball career path would lead to coaching. Eleven current managers of major league teams were catchers in their playing days.
Powell counts his father and former South Carolina coach Ray Tanner among his life mentors. Growing up in Apex, N.C., Powell was a bat boy for N.C. State when Tanner coached there. He was the Wolfpack’s bullpen catcher when he was 13 years old.
Powell went on to a stellar playing career for Tanner at USC. No catcher has more putouts or assists in Gamecocks history, and he ranks in the top five all-time in many offensive categories.
“I grew up a coaches’ son,” said Powell. “I always knew that when my playing days were over, I’d probably want to get into coaching.”
Powell began looking at Upstate colleges and high schools who might be interested. When he knocked on Furman’s door, Paladins coach Ron Smith gladly answered. Last Thursday, Powell officially joined Smith’s staff as a volunteer assistant.
“In the offseason, when I was in pro ball, I’d go over there and work out. (Smith) would throw BP to me once in awhile, so I’ve known him for several years,” said Powell. “I’m really excited about going over there and I think I can really help their kids.
“It gets my foot in the college coaching world, and may be that’s something I can pursue as a career. My goal is to become a college head coach.”
The new position allows him to stay connected with the sport and allows him to play Mr. Mom each morning. Powell’s wife, Allyson, works for WYFF-TV during the early morning, so Powell stays home to care for 4-year-old son Holden, and Izzy’s 1-year-old twin sister, Ellie.
“It’s exciting for both of us. My wife has always wanted to be a broadcast journalist,” Powell said. “She did that while I was in the minor leagues traveling around the country. Once we had our son, she kind of got out of it. This provided an opportunity for her to get her foot back in the door doing that.
“We’re honored and humbled to be able to follow our dreams.”
Powell also will have time to devote to helping causes. Earlier this month, Powell spoke at a Win Anyway Foundation auction. The foundation, which was created by South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook, raises funds to benefit the fight against childhood cancers.
“My daughter didn’t have cancer, but I know that any childhood illness is a really tough thing to go through for families,” said Powell. “I’ve been there. I’ve sat in that hospital room and watched my daughter die. I know how these families feel and how it can tear apart your life.
“So anything I can do to give back to that and help raise awareness, it’s something that definitely has been laid on my heart to do.”