FLORENCE, S.C. — One minute, Grayson Cottingham was waiting with his Francis Marion University baseball teammates to hop on the bus to Lander for a weekend series.
The next minute, they weren’t going.
And before long, their season — as well as all the others in the Peach Belt Conference — was canceled because of the coronavirus.
For Cottingham, a senior starter at either shortstop or second base, this season was supposed to be one he wanted to remember — for the right reasons. A former West Florence star, he took the junior-college route before becoming a Patriot.
In his freshman season at USC Sumter, he batted a team-best .371 with 13 doubles, three home runs and 26 RBI. With also a .474 on-base percentage, he was first-team All-Region X. During his sophomore season at Florence-Darlington Tech, Cottingham batted .260 with two homers and 25 RBI, along with a .356 on-base percentage while the Stingers went 43-13.
After a junior season at FMU, during which he started 25 of 27 games and homered along with three doubles, a triple and 14 RBI, Cottingham wanted the senior campaign to be his best.
“I was hoping so,” Cottingham said. “My shoulder felt a lot better from the injury. I was better because this year, I didn’t have a shoulder injury that I have had two repairs on that same left shoulder.”
Cottingham then went to work.
“(With assistant coach Blake Butler), the drill we used for me is pole-to-pole gap and doing a lot of therapy to regain strength in my shoulder,” Cottingham said.
Those drills paid off as Cottingham went 2 for 3 with two doubles in FMU’s opener against Mars Hill.
“The first game of the season was my best one yet because it was my last first game as a senior,” said Cottingham, also a standout when he played for Florence Post 1. He received the Sportsmanship Award for Post 1 after that team won the 2016 American Legion state crown.
But Cottingham’s favorite game this season was the one against Claflin.
“I made a diving play up the middle and then threw the guy out off my knees,” Cottingham recalled.
All the while, he was doing this in the city where he grew up.
“I liked being close to home where my family and friends could attend the games,” he said.
And after hitting one homer during his junior season, Cottingham blasted his two homers this season within a month’s span.
“The key was honestly strengthening my shoulder for more home runs,” Cottingham said.
But then, in a flash, it all ended after FMU coach Art Inabinet told his team the season was canceled by the Peach Belt Conference.
“My reaction felt like a stab to the stomach. I’ve been playing ball since I was 4 years old, and to have it ending that way was horrible,” Cottingham said.
Although the NCAA will grant all players from this spring season an extra year of eligibility, Cottingham has a wait-and-see approach on whether he’ll actually play another season.
“I’m not really sure what I’m going to do next year yet,” Cottingham said. “I’ll have to see if we get our scholarship money back because I’ll have to go for my master’s.”
Cottingham, off the field, is scheduled to graduate in May with a major in health care administration with minor in psychology and sociology.
“For my profession, I would like to pursue a career in the health care industry,” Cottingham said.
Whatever Cottingham chooses to do for next school year, one thing is certain. He loves the game of baseball and the lessons he learned from it.
“The game of baseball showed me the way of life — the ups and downs, and I’ve met so many lifelong friends along my journey of ball,” Cottingham said. “What I will remember from college baseball is the love for the game.”