FORGIVE NICK EBERT if his introduction to the South Carolina-Clemson baseball rivalry was not paramount on his mind this weekend. Ebert had a few distractions.
Ebert, a reserve first baseman for the Gamecocks, was one of 21 people displaced last week when the Waterford Apartments off Broad River Road burned down. Also displaced was Adam Nonnemacher, a marketing intern in the USC athletics department.
Frankly, Ebert is lucky to be alive, and he can thank his parents for that. Marvin and Sharon Ebert elected at the last minute to remain in Columbia one more night following USC’s season-opening series against Duquesne at Carolina Stadium.
“I don’t know what made them stay,” Nick Ebert said, “but they stayed at my place that night.”
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About 11 p.m. on Monday, Marvin Ebert awoke to the smell of smoke in his son’s apartment. He quickly awakened his wife and son. Since the Eberts already were packed for their return trip to Ocala, Fla., on Tuesday, they simply picked up a suitcase and exited the apartment.
Nick Ebert put on a pair of sweatpants and a USC fleece jacket, then grabbed his laptop computer, cell phone and wallet. He lost all of his other belongings, an estimated $7,100 in electronic equipment, furniture and clothes.
“We got out and we thought we were going to go back,” Ebert said. “I didn’t think my apartment was going to burn down.”
Ebert sat on the curb outside the apartment building and watched along with his parents as fire fighters attempted to limit the damage, which was estimated at $1 million to the 22-unit building. The Richland County Fire Marshal’s office is investigating.
The apartment complex management company immediately relocated most of the displaced residents in its sister apartments. Still, Ebert was forced last week to purchased some small furniture and a futon.
The USC athletics department first worked with the NCAA to see what kind of aid could be provided to Ebert and Nonnemacher. NCAA rules prohibit direct payments or donations to Ebert. Instead, USC established the E/N Fire Relief Fund at Southern First Bank through Blake Taylor, a former pitcher for the Gamecocks.
“We’re doing this to help these two young people out,” said Eric Hyman, USC’s athletics director. “If, by chance, that we raise more than their needs are, we’ll give it to Red Cross. The Red Cross has assisted in the relief effort, but we want to fill in the gaps.”
Ebert was quick to point out that many of those displaced in the fire had much greater losses than he incurred. He said most of his treasured belongings, such as pictures and keepsakes, remain at his parents’ home in Florida. He did lose one framed picture of himself as a running back at Belleview (Fla.) High. He lost a television, Sony Playstation system and several ipods.
By early Tuesday, word of Ebert’s losses had reached the USC baseball office, and the last player Tanner expected to see at practice that afternoon was Ebert.
“He shows up in the clubhouse with a smile on his face,” Tanner said. “He’s a very mature young man.”
Late in Saturday’s game at Clemson, Tanner rewarded Ebert for his maturity in what could have been a devastating week. Tanner inserted Ebert at first base in the bottom of the ninth inning for defensive purposes, and Ebert handled one ground ball flawlessly.
“You just have to take a deep breath,” Tanner said of Ebert’s situation. “He jumps on it and takes everything in stride that he has to do and get reorganized. ... He can handle some things. He’s a very strong young man. He’s obviously going to get more playing time, too. He’s worked extremely hard to get himself into position to get some at-bats.”
That is music to Ebert’s ears. He said having baseball as an outlet helped him through the difficult week.
“Baseball is my life, and I want to keep it that way,” Ebert said. “It was unfortunate what happened, but I put it behind me and I’m going to grow from it. It’s a hard experience.
“Honestly, though, there are families in that apartment who have it a lot worse than I do, that can’t come out and play ball the next day. So, I look at it as an opportunity for me to get away from everything, from the stress and relax.”
Maybe by the next time USC meets Clemson, Ebert will better be able to appreciate the rivalry.
Listen to Morris Tuesdays from 4-5 p.m. on ESPN Radio 93.1 FM.