When looking for the word to describe his emotions on Tuesday afternoon, head baseball coach Ray Tanner went with “giddy.”
“It would be an understatement to say that I’m happy that these two guys flank me,” said head baseball coach Ray Tanner as he addressed the media on Tuesday with junior Sam Dyson and senior Nick Ebert. “To be honest, I’m a little bit giddy.”
Dyson, Ebert and junior Parker Bangs put their professional baseball careers on hold by choosing not to sign with a Major League Baseball team by the midnight deadline on August 17. Their decision to stay provides good reason for optimism for the upcoming season.
Dyson, a nine-game winner last season and the regular Friday night starter, leads a pitching staff that will return 30 of its 40 victories. All three weekend starters will return. Ebert, a first baseman who burst into the spotlight after hitting 23 home runs last year, is the 2nd highest home run hitter in the country to return. Returning players for the Gamecocks account for 69 of the 109 home runs hit by the team last year.
“There were a lot of questions going into last year,” said Tanner. “I’m excited to see new players, but you can’t put a price on veteran experience. I love the veteran guys coming back because they are mature.”
For Dyson and Ebert, the decision to come back for another season was not hard.
“The reason we came to school was to make it to the College World Series and eventually try to win it,” said Dyson. “We both want to get there; we’re excited to play with our teammates and reach our goal.”
“Getting the opportunity to play at South Carolina for another year and the chance to just get to the College World Series is enough of a reason for me,” Ebert said. “Honestly it wasn’t difficult at all. The players we got coming back, the whole rotation returning; it’s a win-win situation and I’ll get my degree.”
MLB draftees must weigh a number of factors, both long- and short-term, when deciding whether to return to school or sign with the professional team. Almost 1,500 players are drafted each year and only a small percentage of players ever reach the major leagues. For example, the entire first round in the 2007 draft (67 players total) only totaled one inning of major league playing time by the end of the 2008 season. Statistics have shown that less than 20 percent of players drafted reach the highest level of professional baseball.
Tanner believes that players leaving school early need to make their decision with long-term financial stability in mind.
“Unless a player is in the $1.4 million or $1.5 million range [in terms of signing bonus], I just don’t think it’s a good situation. You have to assume if you leave school, you’re not going to finish school,” he said. “If you don’t net a million dollars, it’s not easy to make it. A million is kind of the minimum that will protect you. You’re going to make more with a college education than with your signing bonus if you don’t get more than a million.”
Tanner was confident that Dyson and Ebert would make their decision with the right frame of mind.
“Going into the draft, I felt like I knew both of these guys. I didn’t think it was a “draft me and I’m gone” type of situation,” Tanner said. “It was going to have to be very good for them – they value their education and they value their experience here.”
Dyson said his decision was centered on thinking about his long-term options and not about the emotional appeal of playing professional baseball.
“I wanted to set myself up in a situation where if I did leave, I was set for a good amount of time. Without a college degree, you’re not setting yourself up very well,” he said. “I’ve already been here for three years and I’ve made some promises to people on the team. In my decision, I based it off what’s best for me and coming back here was a better situation.”
Ebert said he was straightforward with the Yankees about what it would take for him to become a professional.
“I was pretty set on coming back to school,” he said.
While confident about the futures of his players, Tanners said their attitudes about making informed life decisions bodes well for the entire team.
“The chance of playing in the big leagues no matter how good you are and how many home runs you hit is hard. They’ll take their shot and hopefully they’ll get an opportunity but they’re realistic,” he said. “All those characteristics and that maturity make our team better.”