Call it a coincidence or maybe it’s something in the water, but the talent pool for baseball players runs deep throughout Fort Mill Township.
Between Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools, the teams can almost field a mini-college baseball squad with the number of college commitments and those already signed to play at the next level.
Both schools have four signed or committed athletes that will be playing college baseball in one to two years, covering eight of the nine positions needed on the field.
For both coaches – Fort Mill’s Brad Mercer, who is beginning his seventh year with the team, and Nation Ford’s Mike Matkovich, who is in his second year with the team – it’s not really a surprise how talented their teams are.
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“A lot of kids are playing a lot of baseball, most are playing year-round,” Mercer said. “The biggest thing is kids get so much exposure and it attracts good competition. A lot of it is from the tradition we (Fort Mill High) have had. This is an attractive area.”
Since the school has opened in the early 1950s, Fort Mill has won three state championships in baseball, been runner-up three other times and won countless region titles and has been a constant in the playoffs for nearly the past 50 years. During that time they have also produced 10 minor league players, seven which have come since 2001.
However a lot of the success within Fort Mill can be traced back to players starting early in the sport.
“The youth programs and travel ball has a lot to do with it,” Matkovich said. “They are always around it.”
Another reason Fort Mill players excel at the sport has to do with the socio-economics of the area, Matkovich said. The Fort Mill/Tega Cay area tends to be an affluent one which allows parents to spend the sometimes thousands of dollars for their child’s baseball development. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the median household income in Fort Mill is about $67,000 and about $110,000 for Tega Cay.
“Baseball is expensive and we have the ability to send kids to camps,” Matkovich said.
Along with camps, many local players play the sport year-round with the help of travel baseball and showcase events.
“The showcase teams help a lot,” said Fort Mill catcher Justin Tepper, who is going to Limestone College. “You go right from (high) school ball, to summer ball, to fall ball.”
Because South Carolina has nice weather for most of the year, being able to get outside and play the game helps as well. However, travel teams also take advantage of the competitions held in other states, like Florida and Georgia, in helping players hone their abilities.
“Everybody grew up playing baseball,” said Nation Ford pitcher Cole Avery, who is committed to North Greenville University. “They (players) showcase themselves more. It makes you want to work harder because you know you got guys behind you that could take your spot.”
Current Nation Ford and Fort Mill recruits with signed or verbal commitments
Justin Tepper – Limestone College
Brett Netzer – UNC Charlotte
Jaden Savage – USC Upstate
Clay Helvey – College of Charleston*
Chris Cash – USC Sumter
Cole Avery – North Greenville
Clay Hunt – College of Charleston*
Brandon Fite – Winthrop*
*= juniors that can only give verbal agreements at this point