Monday, March 21, 2011

'Gamecock Glory' far more than a baseball book

It took less than a minute for the first lump-in-the-throat moment.  I knew what 'Gamecock Glory' was about.  The author is a friend, the team is one I followed, the story one I knew - or so I thought.  Just a few pages in I realized this wasn't going to be a book about a baseball team winning some big games one year.  It was a lot bigger than that.

'Gamecock Glory' is a chronicle of the 2010 University of South Carolina baseball team and it's journey toward a College World Series title.  What becomes significant almost instantly is just how long before the season began that the journey itself actually began.

The development of Blake Cooper, the recruitment of Christian Walker, Adrian Morales and Jackie Bradley, Jr. and the creation of a "spirit stick" are just a few of the stories author Travis Haney weaves into the book.  Those and others, like the dogged determination of Head Coach Ray Tanner, the perspective of assistant coach Chad Holbrook and the perseverance of pitching coach Mark Calvi, help define just what the team was made of.  None, however, compare to the story of Bayler Teal and his direct influence on the Gamecocks.

By now across the state of South Carolina, the name Bayler Teal is as much a part of Carolina's run to the title as Matt Price, Michael Roth or Whit Merrifield.  Bayler was a young fan from Bishopville, SC who was stricken with an aggressive childhood cancer.  Nearly two years before their triumph in Omaha, the baseball team had "adopted" Bayler as one of their own.  Travis does a masterful job of just how entwined the team and the Teal family became through their respective journeys toward a better place.

I'm not one for spoilers, but let me simply say that the moment that clearly becomes the book's tipping point left me in tears.  I literally had to stop for a minute before continuing on.  I was overcome with the power of such a brief moment.  That convergence of events - that tipping point - was no coincidence.  No matter your beliefs you'll feel it too, and Travis is to be commended for writing in such a way as to illustrate that so simply and so strongly at the same time.

There's plenty of great baseball stuff in 'Gamecock Glory' too, and Travis includes box scores from some of the bigger late season games to give you a sense of how the team played, but for the most part this is a book about people.  The coaches, the players, the fans, the (sometimes mystified) opponents and a unique little boy with a genuine spirit and the family who taught him to be a Gamecock, a great big brother and an inspiration to thousands of people he never met but who all knew him well.

Read 'Gamecock Glory.'  Whether you're a Carolina fan or not, you'll come away with far more than you expect when you start, and it won't take long to understand why.

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