The feeling of inferiority is not often associated with playing on the No. 1 team in the country.
But senior first baseman Gavin Casas knew this feeling all too well while playing for Vanderbilt's first-rate baseball team during his first two years of college.
Casas said he found happiness in college baseball for the first time at the University of South Carolina after entering the transfer portal ahead of his junior year.
“A lot of people have a lot of different experiences (at Vanderbilt), and mine wasn’t too positive,” Casas said. “Coming to Carolina really opened up my mind, and it really allowed me to play baseball and be happy. And it was really the first time I was happy on a baseball field for the whole time that I was in college.”
In addition to rediscovering his passion at South Carolina, Casas found guidance and inspiration from someone who has experienced baseball at the highest level.
His brother, Triston Casas, has already made his debut in the MLB. After his rookie season with the Boston Red Sox in 2023, Triston served as a support system for his little brother, who looks to achieve the same success.
Casas said he once resented the pressure of success from his older brother. But as he got older, he realized it could be used to his advantage.
“Having him by my side and having him just a phone call or a text away is huge for me,” Casas said. “He’s seen so much baseball, and he’s obviously at the highest level that you can get.”
Casas said developing a relationship with his brother has helped him continue to foster his growth at the University of South Carolina. Gaining secondhand expertise from his brother is invaluable to him as he enters what could be his last year of college baseball, he said.
Casas faced a difficult choice after a breakthrough season with the Gamecocks. He could either enter the Major League Baseball draft or stay at South Carolina for another year.
Ultimately, he decided he was not ready to leave the place that gave him back his passion for the game.
"It really boils down to happiness and quality of life,” Casas said. “My quality of life here in Columbia is really second to none, and I couldn’t be happier with my situation.”
The supportive environment at the University of South Carolina is exactly what prompted him to withdraw his name. The coaching staff's ability to have peer-to-peer conversations with the athletes created a feeling of community within the team, he said.
“Showing up to a facility and dreading being there is honestly a really bad feeling,” Casas said. “Coming to Carolina, it's allowed me to have fun again. It’s allowed me to see the joy and the beauty in this game.”
South Carolina supporters share his joy at being a part of the program. Casas said that since his first day at the University of South Carolina, the fans have “treated (him) like gold.”
The fans aren’t the only people happy to see the return of one of South Carolina’s most offensively productive players. Head coach Mark Kingston and Casas' teammates said his decision to stay will not only help his team but his own personal growth as well.
“He wanted to leave a more lasting legacy than just the one year here at South Carolina. He’s extremely happy here. He loves how we run things. He loves the growth that he’s had here, so he just wasn’t ready to leave. And I think that will be a great decision for him," Kingston said. "And I think it will be great for us because we're getting the best first baseman in the country.”
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Roman Kimball said that Casas made a significant contribution to the lineup last year, and with his return, its offense will maintain much of its talent.
His impact on the team reaches further than offense, though. Casas’ ability to drive in runs gives Kimball confidence that his work on the mound will be backed by offensive runs.
“As a pitcher, selfishly, you’re always looking for that long ball from some of the hitters,” Kimball said. “You can always rely on him for that, but having him in the lineup is really important for this year.”
Casas, along with his coaches and teammates, said his decision puts South Carolina baseball in a better position this season.
“In order to make it to that next level, you really have to live this game,” Casas said. “Everything that you do on and off the field has to be in order to better yourself and better yourself for this team and better yourself for the program. And I feel like if I did that, I would put (the team) in the best position to succeed, and I feel like I've done that to the best of my ability.”