Thirty-nine years after his father Mark stepped onto the South Carolina campus to play for Gamecocks, Grayson Greiner took his initial steps during the summer. On Thursday, he becomes a full-fledged USC student with the start of classes.
There’s one difference. Mark Greiner played basketball as a hard-nosed forward. Grayson Greiner plays baseball as an equally tough-minded catcher.
Both share the same sense of good timing. Mark came out of Charlotte’s South Mecklenburg High to play for Frank McGuire’s teams from 1972-76. Grayson finished a standout career at Blythewood High to join Ray Tanner’s two-time defending national champions.
“It’s uncanny,” said Mark Greiner. “When I was coming through, basketball was at its peak right after the (John) Roche era. We were on top of the world, a Top 10 team with great recruiting classes. Now Grayson is coming to Carolina when baseball is on top of the mountain. Fans were so behind basketball back in the 1970s, and now they’re so behind the baseball program.”
Grayson’s arrival also closes a very unique triangle for the family. The late Bill Killoy, Mark’s father-in-law and Grayson’s grandfather, served as the kicker for the USC football team from 1947-50.
“That’s a cool little twist,” said Mark, who played four seasons in the same class with Alex English, Mike Dunleavy and Bob Mathias.
Grayson is pleased to carry on a family legacy.
“Since I’ve been little, I’ve been hearing about how my dad played basketball here and my granddad played football here,” Grayson said. “Baseball has always been my sport, so it’s always been my dream to play here.”
Grayson attended the College World Series the past two seasons to watch his future team.
“It’s hard to describe. I’ve been a Gamecock fan since I could walk and talk,” Grayson said. “Now I’m here as a freshman the year after they won back-to-back championships.”
Grayson, a strong student who was accepted into USC’s Honors College, took a pair of summer school classes, one in sport management and one in speech – while working out at Carolina Stadium with five other early enrollees.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound backstop didn’t get an offer to play for the Gamecocks simply because of his name. The best player in Blythewood’s short history developed into one of the top five prospects across the state in the Class of 2011. In his senior season, he batted .500 with 14 homers, 38 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
“He’s worked harder than any kid I’ve ever been associated with as far as continuing to get better and not being satisfied with where he was,” Blythewood coach Barry Mizzell said. “He was a little ol’ skinny guy who couldn’t keep his catcher’s equipment on in the seventh grade. But he’s always had a great knowledge of the game, and that was probably the one thing that stuck out about him.”
Greiner will take his spot on the USC roster at an opportune time. Last season’s catchers, Brady Thomas and Robert Beary, completed their eligibility after playing ntegral parts in the second title run.
USC coach Ray Tanner compared the timing of Greiner’s arrival to that of Landon Powell, a current major leaguer who became the best catcher in USC history over his four seasons.
“When Landon Powell came in here, he was going to get an opportunity to play. Grayson is in that boat right now. He’s a guy where the timing is impeccable based on the guys (leaving) that had playing time,” Tanner said. “He’s a very talented freshman. He’s very prepared to be successful at this level, but it’s going to be a great challenge.”
Greiner, who will compete with Dante Rosenberg for the starting position, knows he’ll get a shot at playing time next season if he produces in fall practice.
“I’m just going to work my hardest every day and hopefully give myself an opportunity to contribute early,” he said.
Greiner will give USC a different look behind the plate because he’s eight inches taller than Thomas or Beary. He points to a pair of tall catchers in the major leagues – Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and Baltimore’s Matt Wieters – as models for the type of player that he’d like to become.
Mizzell noted Greiner had to learn to block the ball because of his size, but the coach always has liked Greiner’s receiving skills. Not to mention his big bat.
“If he can hit, he’ll play. That’s going to be the biggest transition – hitting SEC quality pitching every day. I believe he will,” Mizzell said.
Greiner understands what’s ahead of him.
“I’ve got to learn to adjust to the college pitching. Every day there’s a great arm throwing out there in the SEC, and you’ve got to get used to seeing it,” he said.
He believes that on-field adjustment will be aided by coming in early with fellow freshmen Tanner English, T.J. Costen, Joel Seddon, Mikal Hill and Seth Constable.
“I feel like I’ll have an advantage when everyone else comes in the fall,” he said. “All six of us will be really close.”
The lifelong Columbia-area resident will have plenty of friends and family following his career. As excited as he is, he still probably isn’t as thrilled as his father.
“He’s excited about his opportunity. He’s anxious to get out there. And he understands the job at hand and those are very tough shoes to fill,” Mark Greiner said. “He’s prepared mentally and physically.”
Make that a lifetime of preparation.