USC-Clemson rivalry not a joking matter
COLUMBIA -- Sarcasm rarely translates well on Twitter, as anyone who uses the social networking website can attest. And it absolutely bombs when you're a South Carolina baseball player tweeting a question about whether you're allowed to cheer for Clemson's football team in its upcoming game against an opponent other than USC.
That's one of the first lessons USC freshman outfielder Tanner English learned upon arriving to college last fall.
"A lot of people jumped on me about it," English said. "It was a joke, obviously, but I guess you can't really joke around about that stuff."
Outside of USC-Clemson football, the schools' baseball rivalry elicits the most buzz. Several USC players know that well, guys like senior ace pitcher Michael Roth and senior outfielder Adam Matthews. They've been around this annual series long enough.
This year, the Gamecocks have several contributing newcomers who will get their first exposure to the rivalry in this weekend's traveling series, which begins Friday at 6 p.m. at Riley Park.
USC started three freshmen throughout all of its first two series: catcher Grayson Greiner, shortstop Joey Pankake and English -- all of whom grew up in South Carolina. Freshman Kyle Martin, another instate kid, started three of the first six games and is contending to be the designated hitter on days when Greiner is catching.
Two other freshmen, TJ Costen and Wando High's Connor Bright, are in the mix for the still-unsettled second base spot. So is junior college transfer Chase Vergason. Bright slightly leads the second base competition right now, said USC coach Ray Tanner, but Costen could get chances to play outfield or DH.
The Gamecocks' third baseman, LB Dantzler, has been one of their best newcomers so far. He leads the team with two home runs and nine RBIs. Dantzler grew up in Florida and attended junior college there, so of all the new players, he was least familiar with the USC-Clemson rivalry.
"Last year, I knew it was a rivalry," he said. "But being from Florida, I just had no idea it was as big as it is. Coming into football season, everybody talks about the rivalry. I found out it was a lot bigger than I was anticipating."
Bright, whose brother attended USC, grew up rooting for the Gamecocks. But even he has learned some new things from his teammates about the rivalry since coming to Columbia.
"I've heard stories of the years in the past of the rivalry from the guys," he said. "Just (stories of) people mouthing off. It's just going to be a different atmosphere than these first two series. I'm looking forward to it."
But what matters more in the long run for players like Bright is becoming familiar with college pitching. Despite all the angst around the rivalry and fans going apoplectic on English for his sarcastic tweet, less-sexy, baseball-specific improvements are what will result in USC actually beating quality opponents such as Clemson.
"Two-strike hitting is probably my biggest adjustment," Bright said. "During the fall and the spring, I was out in front with two strikes. That's not the approach you need to take. I've been staying back and trying to use the opposite field."
Stats for the four USC baseball newcomers who started every game in the Gamecocks' first two series (not including Tuesday's game against Presbyterian):
Fr. SS Joey Pankake 5-19, 5 R, 1 3B, 3 BB, 3 K, 2 errors
Fr. OF Tanner English 7-21, 5 R, 1 3B, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K
Fr. C Grayson Greiner 7-21, 1 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K
Jr. 3B LB Dantzler* 5-21, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K
*Transferred from junior college