COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Ray Tanner watched the World Series intently over the last week.
It was quite the thrill for the former Gamecocks baseball coach and current Gamecocks athletics director as he monitored two of his former players – Steve Pearce and Jackie Bradley, Jr. – play in the biggest series of their careers with the Boston Red Sox against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It was exciting to know that those guys were going into the playoffs with the best team in baseball,” Tanner said. “I knew I was going to enjoy postseason baseball for sure and those guys had a chance to play together in the same lineup on numerous occasions throughout the series. I was living vicariously through them. I was hanging on every pitch.”
For Tanner, some old habits die hard. The two-time national championship coach found himself offering tips to Bradley, the American League Championship Series MVP, to help him have a little more success at the plate.
“I thought, early in the series, they were throwing him some heaters up in the zone a little bit and I said, ‘It’s okay to go after those. You just got to get there a little bit earlier. So, let’s get the front foot back down like the old days and shorten up your swing a little bit and you can get it.’ I think he probably wanted to tell me I got plenty of hitting coaches here in Boston.”
The two Gamecocks spent a lot of time with the Carolina program before making their way into the professional ranks. While Major League Baseball does allow high school players to be selected in their draft, he believes the best path for any player who wants to go pro is to play college baseball first.
“It sends a message, it really does, that, unless you’re a very, very small minority of players that can get an inordinate amount of money out of high school, you should go to college to begin with,” Tanner said. “It’s hard to make it in the professional ranks. We can talk about two guys that came to the University of South Carolina who grew and matured and have the chance to play professional baseball.
“If you saw the numbers, there were about 25 or 26 college players in the World Series from both teams. Only 19 percent have come through the high school ranks without going to college. So, it’s becoming more and more difficult to make it to the big leagues out of high school. You need to be in the university setting. There’s a lot of great programs around the country.”
Pearce and Bradley are prime examples of what could happen by taking that path. Having success at South Carolina was just part of it. With two program alums now with World Series championship credentials, the attention the program has received over the last week because of their success could be beneficial.
“It does help your brand,” Tanner said. “There’s no question about that. I was with Christian Walker at the Tennessee football game on Saturday night and the way he became acquainted with the University of South Carolina, he saw our team play in the College World Series. So, there’s no doubt your brand resonates. ‘Those two guys went to the same university? South Carolina? That’s a big deal.’ So, it’ll help Coach [Mark] Kingston in a special way.”