With the opening pitch of the 2023 baseball season still months away, head coach Mark Kingston outlined his primary goals for South Carolina's fall practices in a press conference Thursday.
Kingston listed personal improvement and evaluating development as important areas of focus heading into the fall, but he emphasized how he strives to build chemistry within the team, especially after an offseason that saw significant roster turnover.
“This year, especially with having some new guys, is number one is going to be the team building — build a cohesive, together team of guys that trust each other, that have the proper discipline, that learn the type of mental and physical toughness that's required,” Kingston said.
At the Gamecocks' first meeting, Kingston discussed an article about the United States national baseball team, which featured players of all ages and demographics who came together to work towards the goal of winning an Olympic gold medal, because he saw striking similarities between both squads.
“We just talked about that because it's a very similar situation here because we have returning players, we have high school players, we have (junior college) players, transfer portal guys. So, building a cohesive team is a big focus, and there’s a number of ways to do it,” Kingston said.
Kingston said his team building strategy has consisted of 6 a.m. workouts and trips to Fort Jackson, where players were taught valuable teamwork skills.
“We really appreciate our friends over there because they’ve been great in just teaching us … some of the qualities and things and strategies they need to work on because to do what they do, it involves trust, it involves mental toughness, it involves sacrifice — those are all the same things you talk about in sports,” Kingston said.
Through those experiences, the players have fostered a supportive atmosphere and a greater sense of pride in what they are accomplishing, according to Kingston.
“We did the Victory Tower … and basically guys are overcoming some fears of having to jumping down a wall with the heights and the guys are cheering for each other,” Kingston said. “I think to get to feel like you deserve victory and success, you got to do some things like that collectively.”
Kingston said the team has had a “really good beginning of the school year” as the close bonds players created with one another have extended to practices on the field.
“We’ve been in skill work and small groups, and it’s been really good to see the old guys back mixing with the new guys … so it’s been really good to see them on the field working together,” Kingston said.
After planning tangible experiences throughout the offseason, Kingston said it is now up to the coaching staff and the players to make sure this mentality remains an important part of the program.
“As you start to practice now, it’s just a constant emphasis of 'get to know your teammates, build each others’ trust, do things together away from the field,'” Kingston said.
Despite the importance placed on team building in the season’s early stages due to the novelty of many new players being added to the program, Kingston said his goals for the year as a whole remain the same.
“My mental approach every year is to win as many games as we can, to develop our players as best we can, and then from there, a lot of that after that comes down to fate, comes down to luck, comes down to how does the ball bounce,” Kingston said. “That hasn’t changed, and it never will.”