Jan. 27, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Samie Garcia doesn't swing and miss often, and the Gamecocks hit a home run when she was brought in as the first recruit to help rebuild the South Carolina program for coach Beverly Smith's inaugural season in 2011. After earning her degree, she spent the last two summers playing professional softball in the National Pro Fastpitch league, but she's still a part of the Gamecocks program as a graduate assistant manager.
"It meant a lot to be one of the first new players when Coach Bev got here to get that running start and that momentum going for the program," Garcia said. "To have faith in someone that you just met and to think they might be able to help you in the future, I'm just thankful that Coach Bev gave me that chance to prove myself to her. I'm so grateful."
The Bell, California, native played three years for the Gamecocks, and she holds 16 spots on South Carolina's career top-15 batting lists, including third in career batting average (.364) and on-base percentage (.431). She garnered Easton All-America and second team All-SEC honors after her senior season in 2013 when she hit .397 with 49 runs scored, 18 doubles and seven triples.
After earning her undergraduate degree last year and serving as a student assistant, she's working on her master's degree and has a completely different role.
"I'm basically their little helper," Garcia laughed. "I'll do laundry and other things like that. I like to call it character building. I still feel like I'm part of it. I know how hard those girls work and how hard the coaches are working. When you have a stadium as beautiful as we do, you just have this excitement to see the program get better."
After one stellar year at Cerritos Junior College, Garcia was originally recruited by the previous coaching staff under NFCA Hall of Fame Coach Joyce Compton and came on her own for a visit during the summer. Even though she wasn't able to see the campus when it was alive with students or even attend a football game, she fell in love with the Horseshoe and knew South Carolina was the right fit.
"I didn't expect South Carolina to be as beautiful as it was," Garcia said. "I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that the sport and entertainment management major was perfect for me."
The fan base is one of the best things about playing here. They're so absorbed in college athletics, probably because there aren't professional teams here. In California, people don't gravitate to college teams like they do here. The fans really make your experience worthwhile.
When Compton retired a short time later, Garcia wasn't sure if a scholarship offer would still be made. As luck would have it, Beverly Smith was in California on a recruiting trip and Garcia contacted her to see if there was still a chance to sign with the Gamecocks.
"In the shift between the previous staff leaving and the new class coming in, Samie was one that fell through the cracks," Smith said. "Hundreds of people were calling me. I hadn't even seen my team yet, so I didn't really know what we had. I was sort of hesitant, but I agreed to watch her workout. After that, I knew she could help us. She was very quick, had quick hands at the plate, and she wanted to be at South Carolina."
"I had an instant connection with Coach Bev," Garcia said. "Normally when you're a Southern California softball player, your dream is to play for UCLA. One of their players, Andrea Duran, was my idol growing up, but when coach told me she wanted me to be a program changer, I knew that I wanted to be a difference maker. UCLA had just won a national championship, but I knew I was needed somewhere else."
She had two days to get all her paperwork done for the admissions office to be enrolled in the fall semester, and less than a week later she was in Columbia for the first team meeting.
"It was the craziest week of my life, but I'll never regret it," Garcia said. "It was awesome. Looking back at our initial meetings, everything that Coach Bev told me I would get out of coming here was exactly what happened."
With her ability to set the table as a lead-off hitter and flashy plays on defense, Garcia quickly became a fan favorite, and the feeling was mutual.
"I didn't know she was going to have the impact that she did," Smith said. "She's tiny, but I thought her speed and being a lefty hitter would contribute to our lineup. The thing that makes Samie so successful is that she is a student of the game. She remembers where people hit, what their tendencies are, and she would get great reads off the bat. She absolutely loves to compete."
"The fan base is one of the best things about playing here," Garcia said. "They're so absorbed in college athletics, probably because there aren't professional teams here. In California, people don't gravitate to college teams like they do here. The fans really make your experience worthwhile."
Garcia patterned her game after her cousin, Jacoby Ellsbury, who plays for the New York Yankees.
"Just watching how he hits and plays centerfield, which is where I played before I came to South Carolina, it made me want to play like him," Garcia said.
Garcia admits that it took some time to adjust to what she called the "language barrier" with Southern expressions, but she had no problem in adapting to life in South Carolina as the coaching staff instilled a family feeling into the team. That family atmosphere was always important to Garcia as her twin brother, Manny, and father, Manuel, were big influences on her as well.
"Being a twin is awesome," Garcia said. "I always had a buddy growing up. I got that competitive edge from him. He helped me out a lot and helped me chase my dream. I remember one time when I was having trouble hitting a lefty pitcher, and he'd throw me whiffle balls from the left side, and my dad would pitch from the right side. So it kept me balanced as a hitter. "
The balance paid off as she was a fourth-round pick of the New York/New Jersey Comets in the 2013 NPF draft, and she spent the 2014 summer with the Pennsylvania Rebellion. Playing professional softball offered her the chance to play against her idol, Andrea Duran, but it's not always glamorous.
"You get a little spoiled playing in the SEC," Garcia said. "You don't realize that until you are playing in the NPF. The travel arrangements aren't always as good as we had here. It's a good experience though, and you have to have a lot of passion for it because it doesn't pay very well. You have to love the game, otherwise you're going in for the wrong reasons. You get to test your skills against the best players."
The kid from California made an impact on the South Carolina program, and she takes pride in being one of the early building blocks as the program returns to prominence on the national level. After back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament, she would like to see the Gamecocks take the next step and get to the Women's College World Series and know that she played a part in getting them there.
"That would mean so much to me," Garcia said. "To have been here during the transition period and to try to help set a standard. I feel like I contributed to that."
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