Just before the start of last season’s NCAA baseball tournament, South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner sustained a knee injury and had to undergo surgery.
Normally, losing a backstop good enough to make the SEC All-Freshman team would portend trouble for a team’s hopes of advancing.
The Gamecocks, however, turned to Dante Rosenberg, who performed brilliantly behind the plate while starting all three NCAA regional games, both Super Regional games, and the first two games of the College World Series before Greiner’s return to the starting lineup.
With the 2013 Opening Day a week away, both catchers are back in the fold — Greiner for his sophomore season and Rosenberg for his senior season — and again ready to supply USC with a pair of top-notch receivers.
“We’re extremely lucky having those two guys behind the plate. Both of them could start on almost any team in the country,” said USC assistant coach Sammy Esposito, who coaches the catchers. “It’s a great thing to have two of the top defensive catchers, not just in the league but in the country. You sit one, whoever it is, and there’s no drop-off defensively.”
Both get the job done despite have very different frames. Greiner stands 6-foot-5 and carries 210 pounds, while Rosenberg is 5-11, 180. But they’re adept in all areas of the game on the defensive side.
“The pitchers love throwing to both of them. Pitchers can be picky about just wanting their (favorite) guy to catch, but both of them receive the ball extremely well, block (balls) exceptionally, and throw very well,” Esposito said.
Greiner made two errors and had two passed balls last season. He threw out 18 of 43 base-runners (42 percent) attempting to steal. Rosenberg made three errors and had no passed balls while throwing out six of 21 (29 percent) in attempted steals. In Greiner’s 47 starts, the Gamecocks went 32-15; they posted a 17-5 mark in Rosenberg’s 22 starts.
As they try to help USC return to Omaha for a fourth consecutive season, they understand it’s about more than a personal competition for playing time. Greiner, who played locally at Blythewood High, came in last season and won the starting job as a freshman.
“We know every day that we can come to work and take pride in our defense and not let a ball get by us and throw some people out,” Greiner said. “We both push each other to be our best defensively in practice and in games. We cheer for each other, and we’re good friends on and off the field. The most important thing is winning.”
Rosenberg played at Palm Beach (Fla.) Community College before joining USC in 2011, a season he had to redshirt due to back problems. He shares Greiner’s mantra.
“It’s a team thing. We both want to be in there playing and we are competing against each other, but at the end of the day, we want to see both of us be successful and obviously the team, too,” Rosenberg said. “As long as everybody does their part, hopefully, we’ll be back where we were last year.”
Greiner’s father, Mark, played basketball at USC for Frank McGuire from 1972-76. Rosenberg’s father, Steve, played baseball at Florida from 1985-86 and later pitched four seasons in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres from 1988-91.
They’re fully aware that the grind of catching can mean one of them may be too nicked up to play on any given day, which requires the other to be ready to go at any time.
Greiner is the No. 1 guy thanks in part to his bat — although he batted .222 last season, he supplied some punch with 13 doubles, six homers and 32 RBIs. Esposito considers Rosenberg, who hit .209 in 67 at-bats, a No. 1-B to a 1-A.
Both players know they must improve their hitting. Rosenberg hopes that more at-bats may help him find more consistency at the plate, while Greiner hopes that the learning experience of his freshman season, which included a nagging wrist injury to go with his knee injury, will help him this time around.
“You can’t really put into words the jump from high school to college, facing SEC pitching every day. Physically and mentally, it’ll wear you out,” said Greiner, who had to pass on his selection to Team USA last summer because of the need to heal.
“This year I’ll have a better approach. Last year I tried to play outside my limitations, and this year I’m going to take what the game gives me, use the whole field, take some walks, and not try to do too much.”
Rosenberg will try to make the most of his opportunities when they come.
“When he (Greiner) went down (last season), it was unfortunate. But at the same time, that was my chance to show everybody that I can play,” Rosenberg said. “I thought I held my own, and we were fortunate to keep on winning and get to Omaha.”