College World Series star Rob Refsnyder received a warm welcome from South Carolinians and his new Charleston RiverDogs teammates Tuesday, eager to start his minor league baseball career and put an ugly Omaha clash with Gamecocks fans behind him.
“As soon as I landed in Charleston, people have been nothing but great,” the former University of Arizona right fielder said at Riley Park, where the RiverDogs were preparing to face the Asheville Tourists in a Class A South Atlantic League game.
The South Korean-born Refsnyder, 21, was named Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series for helping Arizona end South Carolina’s two-year hold on the national championship.
“That’s the ultimate goal for a college baseball player,” said Refsnyder, the New York Yankees’ fifth-round draft pick in June. “We got hot at the right time. To see your teammates pull together makes the event very special. You hear about how well Omaha supports the College World Series, and it’s like that. It was a great experience.”
But Refsnyder got almost as much attention in South Carolina for a postgame Twitter blast aimed at fans he blamed for racist comments during College World Series games.
“I will never live in South Carolina because they can’t accept Asians playing baseball,” he tweeted from Omaha.
Refsnyder quickly deleted the tweet, and added another: “when people make death threats to my family and myself for being a certain color or race … Caused some animosity”
And: “Poor judgment on my part I apologize, nothing but respect for south carolina and ray tanner.”
On Tuesday, Refsnyder sat in a steamy Palmetto State dugout.
“Generalizing the whole state was foolish on my part, just immature,” he said. “(But) I never apologized for the things I said because there were some pretty cruel and evil things said out there throughout my College World Series experience.”
Refsnyder said ESPN probably overplayed the sweet story of his adoption and his tight bond with his parents, particularly his mother Jane.
“It kind of took away from the game and the players, I thought,” Refsnyder said. “(But) I think some (South Carolina) fans took advantage of that. It was just a little out of the context of sportsmanship. A couple guys wearing South Carolina shirts and hats got escorted out by security, but I should not have generalized. I know how much pride people take in this state.”
There is no doubting the positive baseball match here — Refsnyder is excited to play pro ball and the RiverDogs need him. They just lost top hitters Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin and Mason Williams with promotions to high-level Class A Tampa.
Refsnyder, from Laguna Hills, Calif., hit .364 as an Arizona junior in 2012 with eight home runs and 66 runs batted in. His whirlwind post-College World Series travels included a few days home and then a week in Tampa at the Yankees’ minor league headquarters before arriving at Riley Park on Tuesday.
“I was getting kind of antsy just sitting around the Comfort Inn in Tampa watching TV,” he said. “I’m just excited to play. These (RiverDogs) guys are real nice and as soon as I walked into the clubhouse, I was accepted. Looks like it’s going to be fun.”
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff