The number of former South Carolina baseball players with World Series rings doubled from two to four this year, and Mark Kingston is not missing a beat on promoting that fact to sell USC to recruits.
With Jackie Bradley Jr. and Steve Pearce playing crucial roles in the Boston Red Sox’s championship run, the Gamecock baseball program got a nice boost in publicity, especially because both Bradley Jr. and Pearce proudly showcased their South Carolina connection after games with a handshake that included the “Spurs Up” hand gesture.
On Wednesday, Kingston said both players and their postseason performances are “one of the first things that gets talked about” on his recruiting calls recently.
“Once you become a Gamecock, you’re just very proud of that fact, and seeing those guys do those postgame interviews and talk about being Gamecocks, to me, that’s special,” Kingston said. “And what all the former coaches did here to build that, what the players who played here and had great careers here but now have gone on to professional baseball and made names for themselves, to me that’s special stuff. It’s up to us now to make sure we continue to promote that to the next generation of recruits, to show them what can be done when you come through our program. To me, it all builds on itself.”
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Bradley Jr. and Pearce’s success also has had a positive effect on current South Carolina players.
“It’s always exciting to see guys that went to your college succeed, because that means you’re in the same spot they were whenever they were here and you know that with a lot of hard work and a lot of preparation, you can get to the same spot,” sophomore Noah Campbell said.
Kingston also said he hopes to build off that positive momentum by having both men back to Founders Park in the near future — Bradley Jr. visited with the team last offseason, and senior T.J. Hopkins referred to him as “just another teammate.”
“I texted back and forth with Jackie the other night,” Kingston said. “He said, ‘You’ll see us soon,’ so that’s great to hear. They’re big parts of what we’re all about. Our alumni, our former baseball players know that they’re always welcome back with open arms. I tried to make that known from the day I got the job.”
For the 2019 season, South Carolina will be down three pitchers who all underwent Tommy John surgery since the end of the 2018 season, Kingston confirmed.
Sophomore Logan Chapman and senior Graham Lawson’s surgeries were already known, and freshman Julian Bosnic’s had been reported. Bosnic came to USC as a potential two-way player who saw time on the mound and in the field this fall, but Kingston said his staff expected that he might have to miss significant time.
“We knew it was a little bit of a risk bringing him in early, but we knew the long term gains by bringing him in, even if he did have to have that surgery this year, would pay benefits down the road,” Kingston said.
Kingston reiterated Wednesday that he and pitching coach Skylar Meade are keeping an open mind in regard to how they will handle their rotation and bullpen in 2019. With plenty of arms but few true standout starters, Kingston has suggested he might take an unconventional approach, relying heavily on his bullpen to the point of platooning starts.
“We don’t have any more clarity on how we will use our pitchers,” Kingston said. “We’re going to do a lot of studying on what’s being done in the big leagues these days ... in terms of how many times through the order. You’ve heard the term ‘opener.’ I don’t know that we’ll go to that yet, but everything will be on the table. You have to try to play your cards the best you can to give you the best chance to win, and so that’s what we’re going to do.
“There’s a traditional model of a starter who gives you six innings then you hand it off to a setup man and a closer. We may or may not be able to follow that traditional model. What we’re going to do is try to figure out the best way to use what we have to win the most games.”
South Carolina baseball will open the 2019 season on Feb. 15 at home against Liberty.