Gene Cone discusses playing back in Columbia, his role as a leadoff hitter
Playing minor league baseball in your hometown has advantages. For Gene Cone, one of them is financial.
The former Spring Valley High and University of South Carolina standout gets to sleep in his old bed and stay at home as he begins his first full season of minor league baseball, playing for the Columbia Fireflies.
“Definitely easy on my wallet, living at home. That is a plus for me,” joked Cone, pointing out another perk. “To see a lot of friendly faces … that is pretty nice. Nice to have support around.”
Cone said his parents and sister have come to most of the Fireflies’ games in the first homestand of the season. Some of Cone’s former USC teammates were in the stands last weekend to watch him play.
Through five games, Cone said he’s disappointed with his .222 average. But he’s tied for the team lead in walks and second in runs scored, just what Fireflies manager Jose Leger is asking of his leadoff man.
The Mets’ 10th-round draft pick is used to being the table setter, something he did at Spring Valley and at USC.
Last season, he led the Gamecocks in on-base percentage, walks and was second in runs scored. He also had a school-record 31-game hitting streak.
The success carried over to his first season in the minors, playing for the short-season Brooklyn Cyclones. Cone led Brooklyn in runs scored, walks and was fifth in on-base percentage.
“He is very patient at the plate. Having a guy like that at the top of the lineup, that can get on base for the rest of the guys, is just great,” Leger said.
Cone tries to take as many pitches as he can in his first at-bat, so his teammates can get a look at that day’s pitcher.
“Typically, the first at-bat, I’m not overly aggressive,” Cone said. “I try not to be too anxious. … That is a big approach for me.”
That patient approach is a good reflection of Cone’s personality. He’s a laid-back country boy who uses John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” as his walk-up song.
“He is a good old Southern boy who has some funny lines,” said Tim Tebow, who plays in the outfield with Cone. “We have fun out there and he is a big reason.”
Cone said hunting and fishing are two of his passions when he isn’t on the field. He spent a lot of time doing both, with his father, in the offseason. That helped him get re-energized for the grind of more than 140 games in the South Atlantic League this year.
“I try to have a good time and stay level-headed,” Cone said. “I will try to stay as even keel as possible. Come to the park and work every single day.”