Ray Tanner could never turn his back on anyone who played for him, no matter how briefly.
It’s just something about going to “battle” with a player, one of Tanner’s favorite words, that will always bond him and his kids.
So it didn’t matter that Lonnie Chisenhall deep-sixed his own budding career at South Carolina before resurrecting it and becoming a starter for the could-be world champion Cleveland Indians.
He was still a Gamecock, albeit for a very short while.
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“I’ve always been very supportive of Lonnie, and it’s unfortunate he left as an undergrad,” USC’s athletics director and former baseball coach said. “But I’ve always been a big fan, he’s done things the right way and I remember when Cleveland drafted him, they called me and we visited about his character. And I spoke very favorably.”
Chisenhall turned down an 11th-round draft selection in 2006 to play for Tanner and the Gamecocks, and started 19 of the Gamecocks’ first 20 games in 2007 while compiling a .313 average and 13 RBIs. Playing on a team stocked with Justin Smoak, Reese Havens and James Darnell, Chisenhall was going to be part of the next great USC team.
That ended in March 2007, when Chisenhall and fellow freshman Nick Fuller were dismissed from the team after being arrested on burglary charges. The two were accused of stealing $3,100 from an assistant coach’s locker and burglarizing an academic center and a dorm room.
The pair turned themselves in and returned all stolen items, but were booted from the team. Tanner made the announcement while having to compose himself about making a difficult decision.
“You don’t expect things like this to happen,” he said then. “You just don’t know what to say.”
Chisenhall received six months of probation. He enrolled at Pitt (N.C.) Community College and started rebuilding his life and career. He was drafted by the Indians in the first round of the 2008 draft and steadily worked his way through the minors.
He made his major-league debut in 2011. Six years later, he’s part of a team trying to win its first World Series since 1948.
Cleveland holds a 3-2 lead going into Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday.
“I’m certainly very happy for him and I’m pulling for him right now,” said Tanner, who exchanged texts with Chisenhall Monday. Tanner said Chisenhall replied with a note of appreciation, and said he’s enjoying the experience.
Chisenhall also said he was looking forward to winning it.
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Series: Cleveland leads Chicago Cubs 3-2
When: 8 p.m, Tuesday
Where: Progressive Field, Cleveland