Story by Brian Hand, Spurs & Feathers
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It was always his dream.
"I grew up a Gamecock fan, and something that I always wanted to do was go to South Carolina to play baseball and to be able to do that, be on good teams and be known nationally (is special)," South Carolina baseball great Justin Smoak said.
Currently in the midst of his seventh season in the big leagues, Smoak not only lived out his dream of playing at South Carolina, but he put together one of the best three-year runs in South Carolina history from 2006-08.
After an impressive prep career that included high school All-American honors, his efforts over that three-year span are why, not even a decade after last suiting up for the Gamecocks, Smoak will enter the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame during the induction ceremony at The Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 20.
"I was really excited honestly," Smoak said of learning that he had been elected to the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame. "Only nine years later, you don't expect to be put in the Hall of Fame that quickly, but it's definitely an honor, and something that I will cherish the rest of my life."
Smoak was a two-time All-America selection (2007-08) while playing for legendary head coach Ray Tanner at South Carolina.
In college, you have fraternities and sororities, but baseball is its own fraternity.Justin Smoak
During his time at South Carolina, Smoak never missed a start at first base for the Gamecocks, logging 195 consecutive starts while also setting school records for home runs (62), RBIs (207), walks (151) and total bases (485). One of only seven players in SEC history to hit 60 or more home runs, Smoak is still fifth in the SEC record books for most career home runs.
The No. 11 overall pick in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft by the Texas Rangers, Smoak made his Major League debut with the Rangers on April 23, 2010. That same season he was traded to the Seattle Mariners.
After being a part of the Mariners organization until 2014, Smoak moved on to play with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015.
Over the past couple of years, Smoak has seen action regularly for the Blue Jays, even becoming the first Blue Jay to hit a grand slam against the New York Yankees at their home field at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 8, 2015. That grand slam would be a part of a career-best 59 RBIs to go along with 18 home runs in the 2015 season for Smoak.
In helping lead Toronto to the playoffs this year, Smoak had 24 extra-base hits during the 2016 regular-season, including 14 home runs in 126 games for the Blue Jays.
Currently playing in the American League Championship Series with Toronto against the Cleveland Indians, Smoak, in total, has hit 106 home runs in his major league career.
His success in the big leagues follows his dream of playing at South Carolina, which he remembers the most for "just being on really good teams."
"We had a chance every year to get to Omaha," Smoak said. "Coach Tanner did an unbelievable job with that."
On top of all of that, what Smoak really thinks back on is the special bond that he built up through a band of brotherhood with his Gamecock teammates over his time in the garnet and black.
"In college, you have fraternities and sororities, but baseball is its own fraternity," Smoak said.