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Campbell heads back to class

Former USC Gamecock, Matt Campbell pitches against the Columbia Blowfish in the fifth inning at  Capital City Stadium.
Former USC Gamecock, Matt Campbell pitches against the Columbia Blowfish in the fifth inning at Capital City Stadium.

This fall, Matt Campbell will be back on the campus that he left four years ago to pursue a professional baseball career. This time, the former South Carolina baseball star will be a student, not a student-athlete.

Campbell, the left-handed pitcher who led the Gamecocks to three consecutive College World Series appearances from 2002-04, is enrolled in USC’s upcoming fall classes, and plans to graduate with a sports management degree in May.

After shoulder surgery in 2005, Campbell’s once-promising baseball career was put on hold, and last year, Campbell decided to call it quits and head back to school.

Life without baseball is something Campbell is trying to adjust to.

“Up until now, my whole life has been about playing baseball and I’ve had to sit down and weigh out all of my options of what I want to do,” Campbell said. “Right now, I’m just trying to finish up school and see happens after that.”

Thursday night, Campbell took the mound as part of the USC Alumni baseball team, which was playing the Columbia Blowfish in an exhibition game at Capital City Stadium. Campbell pitched a scoreless fifth inning, striking out one.

After Campbell’s exit, the Blowfish finally got to the USC Alumni’s pitching staff. Down 1-0, the Blowfish rallied with four runs in the bottom of the sixth. That was all the Blowfish needed offensively, as they won 4-1.

At USC, Campbell won 20 games and struck out 271 in three years. After his All-American junior season, Campbell was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the first round of the 2004 Major League Baseball draft. About one month later, he inked a $1.1 million signing bonus and headed to Idaho Falls to begin his professional career in the Pioneer League.

After pitching a little more than one season in the Royals’ minor league system, Campbell had Labrum surgery and was forced to sit out the 2006 season. In 2007, Campbell attempted to pitch again, but could not return to his once-dominating form.

“After the surgery, I never really got back to 100 percent,” Campbell said. “There were times when I felt great and felt like I could make a comeback, but after a few outings my arm would just break down on me again. I never really stayed healthy long enough to do anything with it.”

Campbell said he never found out exactly what caused the injury.

“After throwing all those years, you can’t really put your finger on one thing that did it,” he said. “I never could really get used to it the five-day rotation in the minor leagues, my arm just couldn’t keep up.”

Growing up a Clemson fan in Greenvile, Campbell chose the Gamecocks after his Hillcrest High career, and quickly made his mark on the USC-Clemson rivalry.

As a 19-year-old freshman in the College World Series, Campbell entered an elimination between the Tigers and Gamecocks with USC trailing 4-2. Campbell proceeded to pitch 5Ð scoreless innings as USC went on to win 12-4, eliminating the Tigers and sending USC to the national championship game.

“It was an honor to even be put in that situation, as a freshman pitching against our archrival in college baseball’s biggest stage,” Campbell said. “The way we came back and won that game was a lot of fun, and something I will never forget.”

At age 25 and his baseball career now over, Campbell said he would like to one day work in the sports field. This fall, Campbell will work toward that goal by sitting, once again, in the classrooms of USC’s campus.