May 10, 2018
By Brad Muller | More Features
If you ask a current college baseball student-athlete who his favorite professional baseball player is, you’ll probably get a wide variety of current all-stars. South Carolina senior infielder Justin Row prefers to go back a little way with his answer; Mickey Mantle. What would you expect from a young man who has been collecting baseball cards all his life?
“I probably have close to 10,000 baseball cards,” Row said. “We have a whole room in my house for it. I think my dad set stuff aside for me before I was born. I just love baseball. My parents say I was watching baseball since I was a one year old. I’d be sitting in front of the TV, and I didn’t need a babysitter with a game on. It’s just something I can’t get away from, and I don’t want to get away from. It’s the longest season of all the major sports. It takes a lot of grit.
“Mickey Mantle is my favorite athlete. I have his rookie card. Seven was my favorite number growing up. I read a book about him when I was in elementary school, and I just loved how good he was. I think I read four or five more books about him when I was in high school and college. If he had the nutrition with the way guys take care of their bodies now, he could have been greatest of all time.”
Speaking of nutrition, like many baseball players, Row isn’t immune to having superstitions at different times in his career. That included eating the same breakfast every day for two years in junior college during his time at Fullerton College.
“It was just because we were doing well for a couple of years after a down year before I got there, so I thought I had to keep eating that,” Row laughed. “It was two waffles with peanut butter and syrup, two eggs, two pieces of bacon and orange juice.”
Coach Kingston makes us work harder than I’ve had to work before with any of my previous coaches. I like that.
Row acknowledged that his diet has become a lot better since coming to South Carolina a couple of years ago, but he still has some quirks and routines.
“I have to wear leggings for batting practice. I don’t know why. It can be 100 degrees, and I’m sweating, but I have to do it,” Row said. “It just about getting into a routine and getting comfortable.”
While Row does have certain in-game routines, he’s not going full-Nomar Garciaparra with taking batting gloves on and off after every pitch. Row has also shown the ability to adapt. A part-time starter last year, Row continued to work on his game and has adjusted well to a new coaching staff led by head coach Mark Kingston.
“I just wanted to be myself, play my game, and stay healthy,” Row said of his mindset heading into this season. “I got hurt last year and missed almost the entire fall with a knee injury. So, I just wanted to make the most of my opportunities this year.
“Every coach is going to push you, so there’s not a huge difference or gap with having different coaches in that regard. Coach Kingston makes us work harder than I’ve had to work before with any of my previous coaches. I like that. Everything feels ‘game-like.’ If you do that in practice, then the games just feel like another repetition.”
Row noted that one of the biggest differences for him from last year to this year is confidence.
“Being in the starting lineup on opening day is a huge boost of confidence for anybody,” Row said. “Getting a chance to prove myself on a consistent basis is big. When I was getting spot starts last year, I think I was putting way too much pressure on myself and thinking that I had to perform really well or hit a home run to stay in the lineup. This year, they’ve given me the opportunity to just go out and play.”
Row will graduate with a degree in sociology, and he still enjoys being a collector of baseball history.
“I’ve got a Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie card,” Row said. “I have an Albert Pujols rookie card, which is probably going to go up in value soon. I’ve got Mike Schmidt’s rookie card. I like that one a lot because that was one of my dad’s favorite players. At Christmas my mom still puts packs of cards in my stocking. It’s fun to keep that tradition going.”
Like the heroes displayed on his favorite baseball cards, Row and his Gamecock teammates are stars in the eyes of the young fans who attend games at Founders Park, and he enjoys the opportunity to be in that spotlight.
“I think it’s awesome when we’re out they’re signing their posters or whatever,” Row said. “When you’re young, you dream about being in that situation where you’re signing autographs. When it first happened to me last year, I thought ‘whoa, this is awesome.’ I’ve been in that situation with big leaguers, so we understand what that excitement means and the happiness you may be giving someone else. It’s pretty special.”
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