In the summer of 2000, at a baseball field outside of Toronto, Canada, I saw what many of you would witness two years later at a baseball field in Omaha, Nebraska. As a teammate of Matt Campbell's on the South Carolina Diamond Devils AAU squad, I watched Campbell pitch a gem against a Canadian team from my position in center field. The crowd in Canada was hungry for a team from their country to win the tournament. They brought noisemakers into the stadium and were incredibly loud to a group of sixteen to eighteen-year-old soon to be college baseball players. While the noise increased, so did Matt's determination. We won the game and the tournament. That same fire would be on display at the College World Series against Clemson in 2002 - the first time the Gamecocks sent the Tigers back home from Omaha.
Matt Campbell (2002-2004) was a highly coveted prospect out of Hillcrest High School in Simpsonville, SC and a 39th round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2001, following his senior year. Campbell had his choice of college destinations, as well, and proudly elected to become a member of the South Carolina Gamecocks. The All-SEC and All-American lefthander would go on to attend the College World Series in each of his three seasons in Columbia. Additionally, he was selected to play under Coach Ray Tanner on the 2003 USA National Team. Campbell was a 1st round (29th overall) draft choice of the Kansas City Royals in 2004.
Read the interview after the jump.
What is your favorite moment from your entire baseball career - from little league on? While beating Clemson is hard to beat, I would have to say playing against the Dominican Republic in the Pan American Games is something that I'll never forget. We were playing in their home stadium in Santo Domingo, and they were the favorites because their team was loaded with older guys (some of them had MLB experience) and we were just a bunch of college kids. On the way to the stadium, we were accompanied by two armed guards and the fans were pounding on the outside of the bus as we pulled into the stadium parking lot. The ENTIRE game, the fans (25,000) were going crazy doing the wave, dancing, and singing. They never sat down once. It honestly looked like a European soccer game. We ended up winning 2-1 and the fans loved us after that. Unfortunately, I didn't get to pitch because Jered Weaver threw an incredible game, but to represent our country and win in the most intense environment was a special moment.
What team moment at Carolina stands out the most to you as you look back today? Walking into Rosenblatt with the team for the first time and seeing the turf around home plate read: "College World Series 2002." We had arrived.
Which player or person most inspired you to be the best baseball player you could be? My Dad and my grandfather. My grandfather loved the game of baseball and would always sit me down to tell me stories about all of the great players. My Dad always pushed me to be the best I could be and never told me no when I wanted to go out and have a game of catch or take batting practice growing up.
What did it mean for you for Carolina to win the 2010 National Championship, and do you wish the 2002 CWS offered the opportunity for a best of three against the Longhorns? I'll be honest, I was a little emotional watching them win the national championship. I don't think I got any sleep that night. I wish we could have been the team to bring back the first one, but I was just happy that the Gamecocks finally brought it home. Things might have been different if we could have had a couple extra games in 2002, but we lost to a really good Texas team. To this day I still don't think I'll ever realize how close we were to winning it. It was an emotional roller coaster just to get to that game.
What are you doing these days? I'm working with my Dad. We have a construction company that specializes in asphalt and concrete.
*A special thanks from Skulls and Spurs and GABA to Matt Campbell for this interview.