After not being selected in the 2021 MLB Draft, fifth-year outfielder Andrew Eyster decided to return to South Carolina for one more season. Before exercising his final year of eligibility, he said he didn't believe he'd be back in 2022.
"Obviously last year, I thought it was going to be my last year and that's kind of how it's been the last few years with COVID season, that was my junior year," Eyster said. "That's kind of when I anticipated I'd probably be out of here."
As a four-year starter with South Carolina, Eyster has been one of the most productive hitters — owning a .300 career batting average with 30 home runs and 121 RBI, as of yesterday.
Eyster said it's a "bittersweet feeling" coming back for his last year.
"I know it's my last time around, but also it's been four years here and four of the best years of my life," Eyster said. "I'm really excited to be back and do it one more time."
With the Gamecocks losing four players from last season's starting lineup, head coach Mark Kingston said it was big for the team to have Eyster back.
"He could've moved on or he could've come back, and so we were very pleased when he did come back," Kingston said.
Eyster has embraced being the "old, salty vet" as one of the few fifth-year players on this year's team.
"It's something where a lot of the younger guys feel like they look up to me just because I've been doing this for so long, and I'm someone they can come talk to if they ever need advice," Eyster said. "Also, I can come out and lead by example. I'm not a very vocal person but I think people respect the way I go about my business and it's something they can look up to and emulate."
Senior outfielder Matt Hogan — who is in his first season with South Carolina after transferring from Vanderbilt — said it's awesome playing alongside Eyster.
"I've learned so much just watching him play — watching him hit," Hogan said. "Not to mention he's probably one of the best guys you'll ever meet in your life. He's going to laugh at me as I say that right now, but he's got your back in every way — every way, shape and form — and I'm blessed to be able to share the outfield with him."
Eyster played some of his best baseball in February, as he went 17-for-34 (.500) with three home runs, 13 RBI and an .824 slugging percentage. After homering on Opening Day, he followed up with a game-tying grand slam in the ninth inning of an 8-7 win over UNC Greensboro on Feb. 20.
In March, Eyster's bat has continued to carry his play as he's had four multi-hit games. Against then-No.1 Texas, he tallied four hits and drove in three runs to help the Gamecocks to a series win over one of the best teams in the nation at the time.
"I'd say I've gotten off to a pretty good start so far," Eyster said. "My biggest takeaway has been the RBIs. Going into the season, that was my biggest goal: To drive in as many runs as possible and be the guy that the team relies on to do that — especially in the tough spots with two outs."
Eyster said he's always thinking about what will happen following his last game, calling it a "sad feeling."
"It'll also be happy in the sense of looking back at all the memories I've made and all the good times and the good moments," he said. "It makes me happy thinking about all the friends I've made, all the people that I've met and all the baseball memories on and off the field."
As for his favorite memory, Eyster chose last year's Clemson series, where he delivered two walk-off hits for South Carolina.
"Getting that opportunity two days in a row is rare in itself and being able to come through for this team was awesome," Eyster said. "Just the dog piles after and celebrating with the team that Sunday. That was one of the coolest moments of my life."