Former South Carolina third baseman Adrian Morales is returning to the baseball program as the new student assistant coach this month.
After drawing his release this summer from the Kansas City Royals organization, where he spent the last three seasons as a 49th round 2011 draft pick, Morales will attend USC and help with Chad Holbrook’s program while finishing his degree work in criminal justice.
Holbrook actively sought to have Morales join the program over the years.
“He’d always text me every fall and ask if I wanted to join the team,” Morales said. “He’d check in with me and ask me how I’m doing and tell me that if I’m ready to go and become a coach, he’d welcome me with open arms.”
Morales, 24, played only two seasons for USC, but they were the best ones in program history as the Gamecocks won the national championship in both 2010 and 2011. Getting his degree – he’s 21 hours shy – is important to him.
“I really want to graduate from there. I want to be able to call myself an alumnus and say, ‘That’s my alma mater,’ ” he said. “Everybody was so nice and welcoming to a Hispanic kid from Miami when I played there. It was like a second family to me.”
A transfer from Miami Dade College, Morales batted .273 with nine homers and 56 RBIs in 2010. As a senior in 2011, he batted .281 with three homers and 40 RBIs. He also played solid defense on the hot corner, but his greatest value came as one of the key leaders on the title clubs. His fiery demeanor consistently provided an emotional lift for a team that played a string of close NCAA tournament games over two seasons.
“Adrian was a very special player for us and part of two national championship teams. Not only was he a special player, but a great leader and winner as well,” Holbrook said in a statement. “He is going to be a terrific coach.”
Morales will follow in the footsteps of two other former Gamecock greats who have filled the student assistant role in recent seasons -- Brian Buscher and Drew Meyer. Buscher has since gone on to become a full-time staff member. Morales like the idea of coaching him as well as Holbrook, pitching coach Jerry Meyers and third-base coach Sammy Esposito.
“Not only is it going to help me finish my degree, but I get to coach alongside coaches that I like and respect, coaches who know a lot about the game. It’ll be fun,” Morales said. “I would love to coach at the university level. This helps me get some experience.”
He enjoyed passing along advice and guidance to younger teammates while playing in the Royals’ system
“I like helping guys. I’ve never been selfish. It doesn’t matter if I’m competing against you or not. I’ve always been team-first, win-first,” he said.
That’s certainly how he was during his two years playing for the Gamecocks -- a period he looks back on with great fondness.
“I remember having a meeting with Coach (Ray) Tanner and him telling me that I wasn’t going to be a starter my first year there. I told him that once I got in the lineup, he wasn’t going to take me out,” he said. “And it actually happened.”
Holbrook also announced the hiring of Tyson Lusk as the new director of baseball operations. Lusk replaces Kyle Lipsey, who held the position for six seasons before recently moving over to a new role as USC’s director of apparel operations for the athletics department. Lusk comes to USC after four years as the clubhouse/equipment manager at North Carolina, where he also worked as a student manager when Holbrook was an assistant coach there.