Feb. 10, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
The start of baseball season ignites South Carolina's fan base like few schools around the country. Opening day can't get here soon enough for junior infielder Max Schrock. After being slowed by several injuries last year, but still showing a flair for the dramatic, Schrock is leaner, healthy and anxious to contribute on a daily basis for the Gamecocks.
"I consider myself a leader," Schrock said. "We've got a group of young players who are going to help us. I'm going to take it upon myself to help get the best out of them. I don't go out and try to do something amazing. Everybody just needs to stay within themselves and play to our capabilities. I'm not a real vocal guy. I'd say I'm more of a lead-by-example guy. I'm a big hustler, so I'm going to bring that and hope it rubs off on some other guys."
If he does nothing else in his baseball career, South Carolina fans will always remember him limping to the plate last year on a bad ankle and delivering a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game against Ole Miss in an eventual South Carolina victory at Carolina Stadium. The Garnet and Black version of Kirk Gibson.
"That's a dream-come-true for any kid playing baseball," Schrock said. "It's still pretty surreal for me."
2014 wasn't a dream-season for Schrock however, and expectations were high after he earned Freshman All-America honors in 2013 when he belted six home runs and collected 39 RBI. A sprained ankle on March 5 against Stetson kept him out as the starting second baseman for several weeks. Things went downhill from there as he caught a nasty virus in April that shut him down for a week, and also suffered through a second degree sprain and stress fracture in his back. The various injuries limited him to only 35 games, but he still hit .299 with five home runs and 20 RBI. Determined to come back strong, he didn't play any summer baseball and changed his diet.
"That was probably the first summer I didn't play baseball since I was nine," Schrock said. "It was a little bit different to break rhythm, but it was really good for me. I lost about 25 pounds, which is weight I needed to lose to help my back and also to help me feel like I'm in playing shape. It was a really productive summer."
Baseball is a hard game, but Max has a chance to be a very special player. We expect him to have a good year.
"He looks different in his uniform," Head Coach Chad Holbrook said. "His rehab was very intense in the summer, but he also concentrated on what he's going to put in his body, and eating the correct things. He looks fit. I think that's going to make difference, not only offensively for him, but defensively with his lateral movement. I think not carrying that extra weight will enable him to get through a season healthy. It will certainly be a lot less strain on his back."
Schrock is now seeing the hard work pay off on the field.
"I'm getting to balls that I wasn't getting to before," Schrock said. "I'm a lot quicker with my first step, and it's been really good for me."
With great competition for playing time in the infield, Schrock is happy to play wherever needed.
"The team chemistry this year is really good," Schrock said. "We have a really deep infield. I'm open to whatever helps our team. Wherever Coach Holbrook wants me to play, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play it to the best of my ability, and there are going to be some guys who are going to move around a little bit to get the lineup the way it needs to be to make our team the strongest it can be."
For the first time in a while, Schrock feels 100 percent, both physically and mentally.
"Every swing I take is a full swing," Schrock said. "I'm not holding anything back. I'm going to go out there and try to perform like I know I can. I'm looking forward to getting back out there, and hopefully playing a full season."
Gamecock coaches have always had high expectations for Schrock, who was drafted in the 28th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks coming out of high school, and Coach Holbrook is glad to have him available for 2015.
"I think Max is one of the best players in the country," Holbrook said. "I don't think our fans have been able to see him at the level he is capable of on a consistent basis. We've all seen flashes, but he's been hurt. He's been banged up. Baseball is a hard game, but Max has a chance to be a very special player. We expect him to have a good year."
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