Athletes are often driven by past experiences or a deep desire for excellence. In the case of Charleston Southern junior center fielder Bobby Ison, both apply.
Ison, who earlier this week was named the Big South Conference preseason baseball player of the year, has established himself as one of the top batters in the conference over his first two seasons. He led the league with 84 hits last season, finishing fourth in the conference with a .367 batting average.
He was the sixth toughest college player in the nation to strike out last season. In two seasons, Ison has struck out just 25 times in 475 plate appearances.
"I've become a little more patient as a hitter, but if I get a pitch around the strike zone, I try to put it in play," he said. "I'll bunt, I'll slap it to short and beat it out, or I can turn on it and drive it in the gap. I'm up there to get on base."
Ison learned at an early age how important it is to make every day count and take nothing for granted.
As an eighth-grader preparing for his junior varsity season at Stratford High School, Ison began experiencing numbness and tingling in his feet. The situation progressed rapidly and Ison began having trouble walking and standing.
A visit to the doctor revealed a rare condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves. The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown, but it is thought to be linked to infectious illnesses such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu.
For a time, Ison had no use of his legs, a scary experience for anyone to go through, much less a middle-schooler.
The illness was caught in time and Ison began to recover. He was told he would likely miss a full year of baseball, but the determined young man was able to play in the final two games of the junior varsity season. And he's been playing all-out since.
"I practice and play every single day as if it's my last time to play," said Ison, a communications major at CSU. "That was my wake-up call. After all that stuff happened, I decided that I wanted to get as much as I could get out of the game that I love so much.
"I was very fortunate. I've read in some rare cases that people never regain full use of their legs again. I was blessed and I want to use these legs as long as I can to play this game."
Charleston Southern baseball coach Stuart Lake says a stranger could attend any of CSU's practices and immediately point out the player who enjoys the game more than anyone else.
"He has more fun playing this game than any player I've coached," said Lake, who compares Ison to major leaguer Brett Gardner, who he coached at College of Charleston. "He's in his third year here, and he still loves coming to practice now as much as he did on that first day. Brett was the same way.
"Bobby has an infectious personality. He comes to work every day and he's always learning. Baseball is not work to him, it's fun. We need more guys like Bobby in college baseball."
Ison also is motivated by his younger brother, Jared, a 17-year-old special needs youth who can be seen at most CSU home games.
"He's a big part of my life and seeing him at my games really gets me going," said Ison. "He loves baseball so much but he can't be out there, so I play the game for both of us. When I work hard, I am working hard for Jared."
As a draft-eligible junior this season, the eyes of professional scouts will be paying much closer attention to Ison's at-bats this season, which begins for the Bucs on Feb. 14 at home against Villanova. The 5-9, 175-pounder says he feels no added pressure to perform.
"I'm going to play the way I always play. That's what got me here to this point," said Ison. "It's my dream to get a chance to play professionally. I think every player who ever puts on a uniform has that same dream. I know they (scouts) are watching me closer now but I can't change who I am or how I play. I have to be me and hope that's good enough."
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