Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Twin Killings lead to Twin Titles for Gamecocks

"Defense Wins Championships"

It's the cheesy cliché that usually applies to football. You don't hear it tossed around when you talk about a baseball champion, but when it comes to the 2011 national champion South Carolina Gamecocks, it truly was defense that won them a second straight title.

I marveled at this team's ability to deliver a clutch double play when it needed to and then went to the boxscores to confirm how remarkable it was to see how many double plays the Gamecocks converted in the post-season. As a matter of fact, the Gamecocks had at least one double play in every single one of their post-season wins, 18 in all:

Gamecocks Double Plays in the Post-Season

Georgia Southern 2
Stetson I 1
Stetson II 1
UConn I 2
UConn II 3
Texas A&M 1
Virginia I 2
Virginia II 4
Florida I 1
Florida II 1

It would be awfully tough to rank the key defensive plays in this championship run. The John Taylor induced 1-2-3 DP's and the double plays in the extra inning Virginia game is a good start. But Scott Wingo's 4-2-3 DP against Florida in game one has to take the top prize. 18 double plays in ten games is a pretty stellar stat and then when you factor in the pressure of post-season play, it shows why this team is holding the national championship trophy.

Ray Tanner knew exactly what kind of team he had. He talked on more than one occasion that he didn't have the kind of club that could roll out and put up a crooked number. The Gamecocks had 11 players drafted in the MLB Draft, but when it comes to the high draft picks, just two.

Top 10 Round MLB Draftees in CWS by School

1. Vanderbilt - 9

2. Virginia - 5

3. Texas - 4

4. Florida - 3

4. California - 3

5. North Carolina - 2

5. Texas A&M - 2

5. South Carolina - 2 *Jackie Bradley in Rd 1A, Matt Price in Rd 6*

With two local products on the roster making key contributions in Colby Holmes and John Taylor, local Gamecock fans should get even more attached to this club with the possibility of Shon Carson and Tanner English roaming in the outfield. Carson has said he's definitely a Gamecock, English makes his decision sometime soon.

Ray Tanner's legacy is cemented as one of the all-time Gamecock greats in athletics. Beyond the obvious of winning back to back championships which is rarified air and the shuffling of over 40 different lineup combinations during national championship number two, there are two stories that will stick with me that tell the real story about Ray Tanner.

Two of Tanner's former assistants who are now head coaches, Monte Lee from the College of Charleston and Stuart Lake at Charleston Southern, both received a package in the mail last December. It was Gamecock championship rings and a handwritten note from Tanner thanking them for helping to build USC into a champion.

Then there's the Gamecocks annual trip to the Omaha Children's Hospital when they make it to the College World Series. The furthest thing from a ploy to get good publicity, Tanner and his USC team met a boy named Charlie Peters in 2003. The youngster fought through and beat cancer as a five year old. Now 11 years old and healthy, Peters has been the Gamecocks batboy in Omaha for the past two years.

And just like the Gamecocks double play combination sparked a national title, Ray Tanner brings a double play combination of his own: an elite manager in between the lines and an even better person off the field.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rich's blog: The Gamecock Dad who quit his job for the CWS

Here's an example of public relations nightmare 101. It all started with a simple tweet:

@MRoth29: How's this for dedication? My dad had to quit his job to make it out to Omaha. #novacationdays

Michael Roth's father works at a car dealership in the Upstate. His son came out of nowhere in 2010 and went from reliever to College World Series hero, helping the Gamecocks win its first baseball national title. David Roth couldn't be there in Omaha and wasn't about to miss his son pitch there in 2011. With no more vacation time, Roth amicably resigned from his job and saw his son pitch on Father's Day in the Gamecocks 5-4 win over Texas A&M. The story went from a sidebar to national attention. Father quits his job to see son pitch for the Gamecocks

It didn't take long before the name of the dealership surfaced. I'm sure Steve White VW/Audi of Greenville got more than its fair share of phone calls and emails about the situation and had to release a statement on its web page, citing that "The decision to terminate employment with our organization was entirely David Roth's.

Steve White statement regarding Roth

David Roth has turned down interviews with every outlet both in the state as well as ESPN who is covering the College World Series. There's no question that the car dealership is being painted as the "bad guy" in this even though both sides are saying that the split was amicable.

The trip to Omaha and the College World Series is a long one and an expensive one. If the Gamecocks go the distance like they did last year they will have been there for 13 days. That's a whole bunch of vacation time and when you factor in the fact that David Roth used a lot of vacation time to see his son pitch during the regular season, you can see the dilemma on both sides.

But for the car dealer, it's an absolute PR nightmare. Gamecock nation is loyal and strong and will soon not forget this story. As for David Roth, at 57 years old he has made a risky move to say the least in this current economy, but I'm sure there will be plenty of car dealers who would jump at the opportunity for the great PR by hiring David Roth. My guess is he won't be without a job for long.

Once again, we've learned about the passion of sports in the Palmetto State. College baseball is a niche at best around the country, but in South Carolina it makes the slow summer months awfully exciting. I keep hearing how special the overall experience is at Omaha and the College World Series is. David Roth would agree and paid quite a price to be a part of it.