Drew Meyer remembers watching his alma mater win the 2010 College World Series, at the bar inside the Holiday Inn Select hotel in Nashville, Tenn. He was on his way to Colorado Springs to join the Triple-A Salt Lake City Bees, having just been released by the Houston Astros' organization and signed by the Los Angeles Angels.
South Carolina won the College World Series again in 2011 and, with Meyer off the minor league merry-go-round and back in a garnet uniform, the Gamecocks are not deflating talk of a three-peat.
"It's definitely great to be back, given the success they've had, especially the last couple of years," said Meyer, a 30-year-old Bishop England High School graduate and former All-Southeastern Conference shortstop. "A lot of guys retiring from professional baseball may fall into a lull but I decided to attack it full speed and go back to school. Coach (Ray) Tanner has given me a great opportunity to help out the program."
Meyer is an ideal acquisition, attached to Tanner's staff as a student assistant at just the right time. Second baseman Scott Wingo and shortstop Peter Mooney, steady starters on the 2011 team, have moved on to professional careers, and Meyer will help break in a new middle infield depth chart.
It's also the first step toward Meyer landing a college head coaching job.
"We'll find out," Meyer said. "But I think it's something I'd be good at. I have a lot of knowledge, a lot of things I've learned over the years. I've been paying attention to what works with players and kids and what doesn't work. Sometimes, it's just more about adjusting to different players."
Pankake on deck
You have to like his preparation path: With almost a decade of minor league baseball experience and a cup of coffee in the big leagues with the Texas Rangers, Meyer knows where South Carolina players want to end up.
He knows how to get there, too. Working hard at South Carolina -- practicing almost too hard -- Meyer made himself into a 2002 first-round draft pick, selected by the Rangers the same week he was helping the Gamecocks advance to a 2002 College World Series championship game loss to Texas.
"They've all come in with open ears," Meyer said of the current Gamecocks. "They ask questions and I just try to give them advice that has stuck with me. I tell them that if they disagree with something to let me know, that we can talk about it. But if coach Tanner says something, I tell them it's probably pretty wise to listen to him."
Wingo, famed for Omaha feats in both 2010 and 2011, is tough to replace. So is Mooney, a slick fielder with surprising pop -- a home run off Vanderbilt ace and Oakland Athletics first-round pick Sonny Gray, for instance.
But talent flows through Carolina Stadium. With fall practice almost over, the leading shortstop candidate is Joey Pankake (pronounced with butter and syrup), a freshman from Easley.
At second base, freshman Connor Bright, the former Wando High School shortstop, hit well in scrimmages last weekend and might have pulled even with junior college transfer Chase Vergason.
Tanner Lovick, also a transfer, is in the mix at shortstop and second, and versatile freshman T.J. Costen has played both middle infield positions and outfield.
Fall practice concludes Oct. 30.
Meyer can't wait for the first pitch of 2012, not that he will stop trying to motivate Gamecocks baseball players during the "offseason."
"You look at Scott Wingo," Meyer said. "Four years ago, no one was really talking about him. But he worked his tail off and put himself in a great situation."
Look at South Carolina's newest assistant coach and watch Drew Meyer work himself up the leadership ladder.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at email@example.com or 937-5593.
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