Grace Beahm // The Post and Courier
Bridges,6, Risha and Rob Teal welcome Piper Joelle, the new addition to the Teal family.
OMAHA, Neb. -- It's June, and the Teals are again in a hospital. It's June, and again the Gamecocks are winning in the College World Series.
As much as things have changed in the past year, the symmetry is strong in the interwoven stories of the Teal family of Hartsville and South Carolina's baseball team.
On June 24, 2010, Rob and Risha Teal lost their firstborn son, 7-year-old Bayler, to cancer. Nearly a year later, on Tuesday the Teals welcomed a daughter, 8-pound, 5-ounce Piper, to the world.
On June 29, 2010, the University of South Carolina won its first men's national title in more than 100 years of playing sports. Today, the Gamecocks are one victory from playing in the best-of-three series to determine the 2011 NCAA champion.
"It's so incredible, the timing and just the way things have happened," said South Carolina's top pitcher, junior Michael Roth. "God works in crazy ways."
Sending a message
The team befriended Bayler and the Teals after he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in October 2008, keeping up with him until his health deteriorated in early 2010.
It dedicated its play in last year's College World Series to him. And the Gamecocks played in Bayler's memory after he died June 24, in the midst of their event-record six-game win streak to claim the national championship.
South Carolina is again in Omaha, reaching college baseball's promised land for the 10th time in the program's history.
Roth took the mound Sunday in the team's CWS opener against Texas A&M with Bayler's initials "BT" on his cap. He had done the same last year, the day after Bayler died. Roth, then a relief pitcher, threw a complete-game three-hitter against rival Clemson.
Roth wanted to demonstrate that Bayler's life still means as much to the team in 2011 as it did in 2010. Sunday, USC captured a dramatic 5-4 victory against Texas A&M, scoring a game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
"Bayler was a real inspiration to us last year. He still is. He always will be," Roth said. "It definitely puts this game in perspective."
The message was received clearly back in South Carolina, where Rob and Risha Teal were in a Florence hospital room watching the game on a 9-inch TV screen.
Rob had to go up to the screen and squint to see the initials, but there they were, in black ink on the garnet hat.
"It was so cool to see they were still thinking about him," Rob said.
Piper did not come that night. She did soon enough, though.
Chad Holbrook's phone buzzed just after 1 p.m. Tuesday. USC's associate head coach pulled out his Blackberry to see a picture of Rob, Risha -- and newborn Piper.
Holbrook smiled and began to tear up. He has always felt especially close to the Teals, considering his own experiences with cancer. Holbrook's son, Reece, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004.
Reece is now in remission, but Holbrook understands the kind of terror the Teals felt a year ago. He also has an idea how high the Teals must have soared at 12:21 p.m. Tuesday, when Piper first appeared.
"It was so uplifting to see," Holbrook said. "Rob kept telling me to tell people. He was a proud papa."
Piper will always be connected to the brother she will never meet. Her middle name, Joelle, was given because Bayler's middle name was Joel.
Rob had seen two other babies, both boys, enter the world. But Piper? She was different.
"She is beautiful," Rob said, "the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
Almost a year to the day after Bayler died, the Teals were awash in an unmatched joy as Piper introduced herself to them. Always energetic and talkative, Rob was on another level when reached Tuesday night by telephone.
It didn't hurt that the Gamecocks were about to play another game in Omaha. Seeing them in Omaha again is stirring a lot of things inside many USC fans, but nothing like what the Teals are feeling.
"It's like a continuation of everything, in a way, but it's different," Rob said. "It's emotional for us. It's bittersweet, for sure. It's hard to believe it's been a year. But there are so many good memories, too. And now we're making new good memories."
Piper was dressed in a onesie with a USC baseball logo and the words "Bayler Ball" on it while the family watched the Gamecocks soundly defeated Virginia on Tuesday night.
Battle like Bayler
The team has a running joke here about its overuse of the word "battle." It's apropos, though, on a couple of different levels. The Gamecocks are not the most talented team in the College World Series. They weren't a year ago, either. And, yet, they've found a way to win eight consecutive CWS games and a record-tying 13 straight games in NCAA tournament play.
It's appropriate, too, because Bayler battled at a young age like very few could or would. The Gamecocks learned long ago to battle like Bayler, because they saw his fight up close.
A year ago, Rob was bold in his confidence about the Gamecocks' chances.
"If I had money to bet," he said then, "I'd bet we'll win this thing. I've got this feeling."
That was when USC was two victories away from the title. Now, it needs three wins to repeat as champions.
"I feel the same way," he said. "I don't know if it's because of Piper being born, or the guys on the team or both. I guess we just know the character of this team more than anyone. It's special."
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