It’s fair to suggest there are some South Carolina Gamecocks eager to get back out on the field with summer league baseball organizations following the program’s disappointing exclusion from the NCAA tournament.
Gamecocks redshirts Jake Wright and Josh Gregory would have been filled with belly fire regardless of how their team’s season concluded. The pair are playing for the Piedmont Pride this summer and are at very similar stages of year-long recoveries from shoulder surgeries. Gregory and Wright felt helpless this spring as their Gamecocks teammates confronted a typically brutal SEC schedule and withering criticism of coach Chad Holbrook.
There were “a lot of questions I couldn’t answer,” Gregory said.
“It was a good time for us to grow in our knowledge of baseball, and to just kind of sit back and learn some things from the other guys,” said Wright, the former Chester Cyclone standout.
“Hopefully we can pick up on a good note next year and win some games.”
The pair’s work toward playing time in 2018 begins this summer with the Pride and their first competitive action in over 12 months. Wright had surgery to repair his left rotator cuff and labrum. Gregory, from Gaffney, also tore his left labrum, a piece of flexible tissue that keeps the joint ball in the shoulder socket.
Both are strong-armed lefties, though velocity will take time to recover following their lengthy hiatuses. Gregory was the top-ranked left-handed pitcher in South Carolina during his senior year at Gaffney. Both have thrown 85-pitch bullpens recently and are two or three weeks away from competitive pitching.
Wright and Gregory will begin the season playing outfield and hitting and it’s Pride coach Joe Hudak’s hope that both will contribute on the mound once they get the all-clear.
“We’re counting on them, they’re both good pitchers.” he said. “They’re not far away but throwing a bullpen is different from throwing in a game.”
More than the Gamecocks’ struggles, sitting out a year stoked Wright and Gregory’s passion for baseball.
“I'm beyond excited to play ball,” said Gregory, whose one-year absence from the game was his longest since he started playing as a child. “You get to compete for something.”
The Pride play in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League, not one of the top-tier summer wood bat leagues. The team’s roster is generally filled with players from big Division I schools that redshirted or didn’t get much playing time, junior college players, or guys from Division II or III schools eager to show they belong at a higher level. All three types bring an edge to the Pride.
“It’s a big summer for all of them,” said Hudak.
Wright was a natural addition to the Pride’s roster.
He’s gone on four mission trips to the Dominican Republic with Hudak, and he played travel ball for a Hudak-coached team in his early high school years. He stayed with the Pride players last summer at York Place and was the walk-up music DJ during games.
“When he asked me to play with the Piedmont Pride this summer I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “I love Coach Hudak and have a great amount of respect for what he does.”
Wright is on the Pride Council, a group of five returning players that will serve as a communication conduit between the players and Hudak.
“He’s just a great kid, a phenomenal Christian kid,” said Hudak. “He knows a lot of the guys, he knows what we do, so it’s good to have him.”