The ballpark has always been a place of refuge for Gary Gilmore.
Specifically this time of year, when the crisp silence of February is pierced by the sound of the crack of a bat.
Certainly, the game which the Coastal Carolina baseball coach has come to know and love hasn’t changed much. In an odd twist of fate, though, the sport also has eternally altered his life — and that of the Chanticleer baseball team — for the better.
An improbable run to a College World Series title last June brought instant fame and credibility to the Coastal Carolina baseball program. No matter where players and coaches went, they were met with cheers and lively conversation by those finding inspiration in their run to glory in Omaha, Neb.
Even more so, the demand for Gilmore’s services increased leaps and bounds, requested regularly in the months after the Chants’ title win to appear at speaking engagements and photo opportunities.
But as summer turned to fall and winter following shortly after, the Coastal Carolina skipper did his best to file those cherished memories in a personal lockbox. Knowing “to whom much is given, much is required,” Gilmore wanted his squad to renew its mindset, expecting to get every team’s best shot as a reigning national champion.
(Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore) has talked about it a lot, since we got back on campus in August that we have a standard to hold now more than ever. Coastal has been a good program for 15 or 20 years, so he really put an emphasis on getting everyone’s ‘A’ game.
Coastal Carolina third baseman Seth Lancaster
No doubt, Chanticleer baseball players understood there would be an enormous target on its back as it prepared for the 2017 season. Few actually expected to be wearing it, however.
“When we got back to campus, (Gilmore) told us ‘last year was last year,’ and that this year’s team needed to make its own mark,” said Coastal Carolina first baseman and former Georgetown standout Kevin Woodall Jr. “… The T-shirts with our target on our back sends us a message that everyday we come out, whoever we play is going to give us their ‘A’ game, and we have to be on our ‘A’ game.”
Said senior pitcher Alex Cunningham: “We do know there is a target is on our back, and we welcome the challenge. That’s not to say there isn’t still a chip on our shoulder, because there is. We just want to instill in everyone that it’s going to be a culture that Coastal Carolina has a chance to get to Omaha every year.”
Step one in emphasizing last summer’s trip to Omaha wasn’t mere happenstance begins this weekend, with the Chanticleers opening the season with the annual Caravelle’s Resort Baseball at the Beach. Opening Friday night with a visit from Richmond, the club also will host Western Carolina, James Madison and St. John’s, in what Gilmore hopes serves as a final salute to their run to a championship.
“Going out and telling people about an incredible group of kids, coaching staff and university, it’s always a labor of love so to speak,” he said. “But I’m really, really glad for the season to start. These kids have worked extremely hard, and I feel the internal make-up of the team is a whole lot like last year’s team. But we have to grow together every time.
“If we stay healthy and we really play well, this team will be a contender.”
While expectations have changed for the boys in teal, one thing that hasn’t is Gilmore. According to Cunningham, the longtime Coastal Carolina skipper has been the model of consistency in handling the team’s day-to-day activities and preparations for the upcoming season.
“It hasn’t been different at all,” the Byrnes High pitching product said. “Coach Gilmore is pretty consistent about the way he goes about his business, and the way he goes about our business. He expects nothing but the best, and he’s not going to expect anything less than that.”