FLORENCE, S.C. – The texts messages started to become a little more frequent for John Taylor about a month ago – about the same time the SEC Network began airing reruns of previous College World Series.
He probably will see another uptick Monday, as June 29 marks a special anniversary for Taylor – and every other University of South Carolina baseball fan.
It was exactly 10 years ago Monday that Whit Merrifield’s RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning lifted the Gamecocks to a 2-1 victory over UCLA in Game 2 of the 2010 CWS championship for their first title in school history.
“Sometimes it seems like yesterday, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Taylor, a former Wilson High standout. “Most of the time, 10 years seems like it hasn’t been that long at all.”
Taylor works as a marketing representative now with Federated Insurance, but a decade ago he was an integral piece of the Gamecocks’ bullpen that helped carry them to the championship both in 2010 and the following year.
“I think just the opportunity to play at Rosenblatt (Stadium) in the last year there stands out the most, because the College World Series was something you watched on TV every summer and it was just kind surreal to get to play there,” Taylor said.
“Obviously that and the fact that we were able to win the championship there in 2010 and then have the opportunity to win at TD Ameritrade (Park) the next year – that’s probably the most special concept looking back at it.”
Not that there weren’t other memorable moments. Many people probably remember Taylor’s final season in 2011 in which he set a school single-season record with 50 appearances iand earned All-American honors. He went 8-1 that season with a 1.14 ERA in 71⅓ innings. He also pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the 2-1 victory over Florida in Game 1 of the championship series.
It was actually a far cry from how he began his career in Columbia, he said.
“A lot of people may or may not remember that I was named the closer to start the 2010 season,” Taylor said. “After the first couple weeks I actually lost that job, and it was kind of closer by committee until (Sumter High’s) Matt Price found that role and broke all kind of records.
“But I think it’s just like any team – people have to find their role and settle in. I think just throwing from a sidearm angle like that, it was really more meant to be kind of a setup role that I transitioned into.”
Taylor eventually found his footing and came up big when it mattered most. He threw a perfect inning of relief in the championship-clinching game against UCLA and pitched another perfect inning in a 3-2 victory over Oklahoma earlier in the tournament.
“I remember stepping on the mound at Rosenblatt and telling myself not to be nervous and enjoy the moment,” Taylor said. “I didn’t want to look back and think that I didn’t perform as well as I could have because I let the nerves get to me.
“I’d say just the chance to come in and know that I was going to play some kind of role and throw in a big moment and try to get the ball into Price’s hands to get a victory – that probably stands out the most.”
Those two years probably will be tough to top, as the Gamecocks won a record 22 consecutive games in the NCAA tournament and also hold the longest winning streak at the College World Series (12), which dates from 2010 to 2012.
That was not the end of his baseball career. Taylor was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 22nd round of the MLB draft in 2011 and spent two seasons in the minor leagues. Following his release and his desire to go back to school and get his degree, Taylor wound up on the coaching side. He was hired by one of his alma maters, Florence-Darlington Tech, as a pitching coach in 2014 and also served as an assistant coach for A.C. Flora High School in Columbia.
For the moment, however, his career in baseball has been set aside, although he still finds himself at the ballpark every now and then.
“Work keeps me pretty busy now,” Taylor said of his position with Federated Insurance. “I don’t have a lot of extra time, but occasionally I’ll go to a local game. If coach (Curtis) Hudson from Wilson will always let me know when he’s coming from Socastee to play South (Florence) or West (Florence) or Wilson and I’ll try to make it out there.
“I’m not ruling out (a return to coaching), but it’s just not something on my radar right now.”