Marty Gantt: Perseverance Personified

Awe inspiring athletes come and go. Though they seem so rare, the numbers pile up as the years float by. Rarely does an athlete's inspiration transcend sports and touch the lives of anyone lucky enough to know. Coach Ray Tanner and the rest of Gamecock Nation are about to embark on a journey – a journey with Marty Gantt – a walking and talking clinic of perseverance.

"Boys, there ain't no free lunches in this country. And don't go spending your whole life commiserating that you got the raw deals. You've got to say, I think that if I keep working at this and want it bad enough I can have it. It's called perseverance."

- Lee Iacocca

The University of South Carolina baseball program has a left handed strike out machine on his way to the Garnet and Black in 2008. Marty Gantt learned about "perseverance" at a young age. He's demonstrated exactly what Iacocca describes, "If I keep working at this and want it bad enough, I can have it!"

Not only did he strikeout almost two batters an inning last season, he also hit .486 as an outfielder and leadoff hitter. Most future SEC athletes usually do have ridiculous statistics in high school like Gantt. So then what's so unusual about this SEC bound athlete?

He's done all of this with a deformed right hand. With a perfectly normal thumb, Marty was born with the other four fingers stopping at the middle knuckle. Imagine having to hold a bat, catch a line drive or even just hold a fork. While most couldn't imagine, Marty went a step farther. He overcame it and then went on to pick up the 2007 South Carolina Mr. Baseball award.

He finished the season with a 9-3 record, a 1.33 ERA and then there were the strikeouts... Recording 161 strikeouts in only 84.3 innings, Gantt is considered by many the top prospect in the state of South Carolina.

Marty's unexpected commitment to USC sent ripples through his family. Coming from a family who dons purple and orange whenever possible (including Marty), it was definitely against the odds. Though, he'll become a Gamecock for life, his Dad is going to have a tougher time with it.

"My Dad already said that he's still pulling for Clemson in football, but he'll always pull for South Carolina and me in baseball." Said Marty, "But he won't wear a hat. No way. Never. He'll probably wear a North Augusta hat."

Knowing how the mind of the average child works, there were shouts of ‘nub' along with countless glares. The ability to overcome though is usually found in facing the problem, not concealing it. Marty faced it, talked about it and eventually accepted it.

When kids ask him now, "What happened?" Marty has been known to smile and say, "I misbehaved."

He's also known to get a laugh out of teammates while riding the bus, as he'll make hand gestures of some sort that others can't.

When Marty isn't making people laugh he's all business. A strict workout routine and dedication to improving made him even more than he expected, "I really thought I'd be an outfielder primarily. I used to top out around 80 mph, and then I started really working on strengthening my back and shoulders. That helps your velocity. The next season I was just throwing around 88-89. I think I've hit 91 a couple times."

Even throwing the high eighties to low nineties fastball, it's the backdoor slider that's become the main attraction.

"I throw a fastball, curve, the slider and I'm really working on my change up right now," says Gantt, "but my out pitch is my slider."

One of Marty's coaches, Victor Radcliffe raves about the developing change-up. Knowing Marty since he was about six years old, Radcliffe puts him right up there in the Top Two North Augusta products with former Clemson alumni Kevin Lynn.

"Even back then (when he was six years old), I had already been with the program like six years before his Dad started helping. When he finally started helping I started seeing (Marty). That's when you could just see he had that passion."

"About two years ago I really started to notice him picking up the speed on his fastball. Ya' know?" explained Radcliffe, "He was like ‘sneaky' fast. That's when you could really start to see it. Plus, he's a competitor. He doesn't want to be outdone by anyone. I mean, he's really developing the change-up too."

Gamecock Nation can thank a mother's love and a father's trust for Marty Gantt, "My Mom was really high on South Carolina. She liked everything. She liked the coaches. But the big thing for her was that I'd be a lot closer in Columbia than Clemson. My Dad just said to go with my gut. He understood."

Knowing that this past season's success only heightened expectations, Marty won't back down, "I just want to play next year. I guess a redshirt is ok because you still get to work out, but I'd really like to play. I'll play anywhere. I don't have to be a pitcher. I just want to play."

He continues with zest regarding his tunnel vision-like long term goals, "My goal is Omaha. That's my only goal – just do my part to help the team get to Omaha."

When asked to be more specific, Marty repeated, "I just want to get to Omaha. I want the World Series."

Repeating last year's performance, a realistic impossibility, there's still more work to be done according to Coach Radcliffe, "He needs to get in the weight room and get stronger. He hasn't developed yet. He's done a good job and you can see it, but he needs to keep it up."

If that's the case, Marty has picked the right school. Most every Gamecock raved about the work of strength and conditioning Coach Billy Anderson. Radcliffe elaborates, "USC's strength and conditioning coach is going to have a field day with Marty, but that's good and Marty knows that. That's gonna' be a big plus for him."

With Mike Cisco, Blake Cooper, Nick Godwin and Jay Brown already slated as the favorites for the starting pitcher slots Gantt will probably rely more on his glove and bat initially "Defensively, he's swift." Says Radcliffe, "He runs well and he's one of those guys who have real baseball instinct."

He also has motivation that most will never grasp. Like Iacocca said, "It's called perseverance."

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