CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Baseball at The Palace in Conway is back. CCU had its first practice of the spring Friday afternoon ahead of the 2021 campaign.
With it being 10 months since they’ve last played, the guys are excited to be back together preparing for real game action.
“It was great to be back. I know everyone was getting almost homesick from not being here playing,” said CCU pitcher Nick Parker. “I know everyone was itching to come back and be around each other. I know for me personally and the guys that I’ve talked to, being away during quarantine made everyone appreciate being here a lot more.”
Friday saw the return of head coach Gary Gilmore. Gilmore, a Coastal alum who is in his 26th season leading the Chants, continues to battle a form of liver cancer that forced him to miss games last season due to getting treatment in Houston.
Today, Gilmore saying he feels great. Even better physically than he did a decade ago.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going on inside my body, other than the tests and different things they do, but I feel incredible,” Gilmore said. “I feel better than I did ten years ago physically right now.”
His players say seeing his comeback and the resilience he’s shown throughout the recovery process has been inspirational.
“It’s unbelievable, seeing what all he’s been through and the direction he could’ve taken that, he’s been one of the strongest guys I’ve seen,” said CCU outfielder Parker Chavers. “He’s been at the field everyday and hasn’t missed a beat.”
“If he’s coming out here everyday with what he’s had to deal with throughout the pandemic, then why can’t we,” Parker asked. “With what he’s willing to sacrifice it holds us accountable. We can’t go out of our way to put him in danger so we embraced that role of following procedures.”
This season also sees the return of outfielder Parker Chavers, a preseason All-American. Chavers missed all of the shortened 2020 season due to shoulder surgery. There’s one tool of his in particular he’d like to improve on during his senior campaign.
“Probably my speed, I think it’s undervalued by a lot of people,” Chavers said. “I don’t think a lot of people really realize I can run the way that I do. That’s another big focus. I’m going to try to run a lot more this year and steal some bags and do what I can with my legs in the outfield.”
Even with the excitement, a number of questions loom over this team, primarily when it comes to pitching. Gilmore says the Chants might have an approach similar to what the Tampa Bay Rays did in 2020.
“There’s a bunch of guys in this equation for me that have the ability to be very, very good,” Gilmore added. “We’re more so moving forward like we have been in the past and it may take us a little while. I’m just being honest with you, it’s going to be like pulling names out of a hat when it comes to pitching.
The Chants begin the season on Friday, Feb. 19 at home against Duke. First pitch is set for 4 p.m.