South Carolina: Centerfield U

By Rixon Lane

Mr. Gene Cone,

Congratulations! On behalf of the faculty and staff of Centerfield University, it is with great pleasure that I inform you of your admission to Centerfield U for the spring of 2015! You were selected from a group of extremely accomplished and outstanding student-athletes. 

This is an exciting time to enroll in Centerfield U! Below, you will find your class schedule for the spring. Please note that these classes will not change during your tenure at CFU:

Tue-Wed -- 4:05-8:00 -- Avoiding Injury 202 -- Professor Wingo

Fri-Sat-Sun -- 1:05-7:00 -- Conference Accolades 326 -- Professor Buscher

Mon-Thurs -- 10:00-12:30 -- Base Stealing 403 -- Dean Holbrook

(Offered only in June) -- All day -- Omaha Success 101 -- Dean Emeritus Tanner

 There is a rich and storied tradition here that you should be aware of before classes begin in February. In order to assist you, we've put together a brief synopsis of the university's history.

 

I. The Early Years (2000-03)

South Carolina's run of phenomenal center fielders begins when Donald Ray Tanner, Jr., the newly appointed dean of Centerfield U at the time, started Woodruff, S.C., native Marcus McBeth in the 2000 season opener against Charleston Southern. McBeth had been used as a defensive replacement for the majority of the 1999 campaign, splitting time in center field with Nate Janowicz and Shane Nelson. McBeth handled the job for nearly all of the 2000 and 2001 seasons. McBeth was an eventual fourth-round pick of the Oakland A's, the 131st player taken over in 2001.

McBeth gave way to Jon Coutlangus, an arrival from Indian River Community College and the first JUCO enrollee at CFU, in 2002. Coutlangus held the job for half the season before breaking a finger on a bunt attempt and sitting for 22 games. He was replaced by Justin Harris, who wound up being South Carolina's RBI leader in the national championship game against Texas and was named to the 2002 College World Series All-Tournament Team (you will learn more about this in Omaha Success 101). The following season, the Pittsburgh Pirates took Harris in the 16th-round as the 465th overall pick. 

A healthy Coutlangus manned centerfield in 2003 and led the team in steals with 14 on the year (this is another important point that we will revisit). Coutlangus was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 19th-round of that year's draft with the 573rd pick. 

 

II. Building a Legacy (2004-07)

Staff Photo: Michael Campbell set the South Carolina record for games played in a career. 

Staff Photo: Michael Campbell set the South Carolina record for games played in a career. 

After Coutlangus graduated from CFU, the torch was passed to Davy Gregg, who started 97 games in centerfield during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Gregg led the Gamecocks with 14 steals in 2004, the second consecutive season that a Centerfield U enrollee led the team in that category (are you beginning to see a pattern, Mr. Cone?). He was chosen by the Chicago Cubs as the 820th pick in the 2005 draft, a 20th-round selection. 

Our next alum is one of the more decorated individuals in Centerfield U's history. Michael Campbell set multiple records for South Carolina, including making 234 consecutive starts and playing in a school-record 255 games. He led the team in, you guessed it, stolen bases during the 2006 campaign. He started 55 contests in centerfield that season and would have had even more if not for a breaking his hand in May (you'll find that Avoiding Injury 202 is one of our more difficult classes here at CFU). He went on to be a 20th-round pick by the San Diego Padres, the 603rd player taken that year. 

Campbell was replaced by Andrew Crisp in 2007. Crisp started 60 games, was an NCAA All-Regional player, and was picked by the Pirates in the 36th round of that year's draft. Crisp wound up dropping out of CFU and spent much of the following two seasons at Second Base Tech and Designated Hitter State. 

 

III. The Golden Years (2008-11)

Staff Photo by Paul Collins: Whit Merrifield's RBI single gave South Carolina the national title.

Staff Photo by Paul Collins: Whit Merrifield's RBI single gave South Carolina the national title.

We now arrive at the two most accomplished graduates of Centerfield U. In 2008, our institution opened its doors to a Wake Forest legacy named Whitley David Merrifield. "Whit," as he came to be known, started 62 games in centerfield as a freshman, while batting .326 and leading the team in...well, you get the idea. He was named to the SEC's All-Freshman Team and was our program's second consecutive All-Regional selection. Merrifield started 56 games in his second season and was a 9th-round pick by the Kansas City Royals the following year, pick No. 269 to be precise. 

By this point, our institution had become well-known and the competition to be admitted to Centerfield U was intense. As we only have room for one enrollee at a time, Mr. Merrifield graciously left the program after two seasons to make room for our most decorated alum, Jackie Bradley, Jr.

A Virginia native, Jackie's first year at CFU was the school's most successful. He became the first enrollee to be named the Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series, leading the Gamecocks to a national championship. Bradley was also named to the CWS All-Tournament and was an SEC All-Defensive Team selection and 2nd-Team All-SEC player. 

It is important to mention at this point, Mr. Cone, that if you ultimately withdraw from Centerfield U before your eligibility expires, it is possible (and, to be frank, preferable) for you to continue having great success on the baseball diamond. The player with the game-winning hit in the 2010 national championship?

Our very own Whit Merrifield.

In 2011, despite struggling with the rigors of Avoiding Injury 202, Bradley was once again named to the SEC's All-Defensive Team (which is now a standard part of the curriculum). He was the 40th overall pick in the 2011 draft and now plays with the Boston Red Sox organization. He will be delivering the commencement address this year. 

 

IV. A Standard of Excellence (2012-14)

Staff Photo by Paul Collins: Tanner English started 112 of the last 125 games in centerfield. 

Staff Photo by Paul Collins: Tanner English started 112 of the last 125 games in centerfield. 

2012 was a time of change here at Centerfield University. Dean Tanner stepped down and was replaced by tenured professor, Chad Holbrook. Tanner still remains on staff as Dean Emeritus (you will meet him if you participate in Omaha Success 101 in the summer). 

While faculty and staff were also saddened by Jackie's departure, we quickly welcomed in Mr. Evan Marzilli. Despite having enormous shoes to fill, Marzilli became the first enrollee to ever ace all four standards of Centerfield U's curriculum: Avoiding Injury 202 (started every game); Conference Accolades 326 (SEC All-Defensive Team); Base Stealing 403 (lead team with 13 steals); and Omaha Success 101 (CWS All-Tournament Team). Marzilli also tied South Carolina's single-season sacrifice fly record and went on to be the 273rd pick in the 2012 draft when the Arizona Diamondbacks chose him in the 8th round. 

This brings us to your predecessor, Tanner English. During his two years at CFU, English started 112 games in centerfield, became an SEC All-Defensive Team selection, and led the team with 21 steals last season. He was taken by the Minnesota Twins in the 11th-round as the 320th pick in last year's draft. 

 

That is our history, Mr. Cone, a history which you are now a part of. You have the potential to be a very valued member of this institution. Competition to be a part of this program is fierce and you will have to prove your ability to remain here every day. If you succeed, you could be CFU's first three-year enrollee. 

We wish you the best in your future here at Centerfield University! Classes begin Friday, February 13th at 4:00 at Carolina Stadium. 

See you then!