The expectations for Marty Gantt have always been high. As a junior at North Augusta High School, he was named South Carolina’s top baseball player. As a senior, scouts drooled over his pitching talent, especially his wicked left-handed slider. Gantt, everyone agreed, was going to be great.
Playing for the College the last two years after transferring from Spartanburg Methodist, he hasn’t disappointed. As he finished his collegiate career as a Cougar, Gantt batted leadoff and played centerfield, and that’s after succeeding at stints as pitcher, right field and first base, too. The long and short of it is that Gantt has excelled wherever he’s played.
“Marty’s just one of those guys you don’t worry about putting in unfamiliar situations,” says head baseball coach Monte Lee ’00. “He’s got enough confidence and athleticism to overcome it.”
Last season, Lee moved Gantt from the outfield to first base after a tough series against The Citadel in which the Cougars committed seven errors and dropped two games. The move worked, and the Cougars won 18 of their last 25 games.
This season he’s been allowed to excel in a more stable position in the outfield. During the regular season, Gantt was among the top three Southern Conference players for batting average (.369), runs (62), doubles (19), stolen bases (25), walks (41) and on-base percentage (.481). Together, those statistics added up to 2012 SoCon Player of the Year honors – and being drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I just think he’s incredible. I have so much respect for him,” says Lee. “When he wasn’t playing baseball, then he was in the cage every day trying to get better
That’s the kind of commitment it takes when your goal is to play in the pros, though. Earning a shot in the pros isn’t easy. And it doesn’t come any easier when you’re competing with a disability.
Gantt was born with four shortened fingers on his right hand, the result of his umbilical cord wrapping around his hand when he was in the womb. Remarkably, however, the only thing Gantt’s handicap prevents him from doing is checking his swing: When he decides to swing at a ball, there’s no stopping the bat.
Gantt learned early in life to adapt to his disability, thanks in part to his mother, who urged him to shrug off the occasional teasing and taunting from classmates.
“My mom told me I wasn’t any different than them. She told me I could do whatever I wanted,” says Gantt, adding that his father has also been instrumental in his success, coaching and supporting him all along the way.
Together, Gantt’s parents raised one of the best ballplayers to play in South Carolina at the high school and college level. Best of all, the lessons their son has learned through baseball apply on and off the field.
For Gantt, the sport has taught him how to handle pressure and how to stay even keeled despite the many ups and downs of a season. Baseball has taught him, too, that there is always room for improvement and always an opportunity to help your team pull out a victory. These are lessons his fans, teammates, family and coaches are proud to see him put into practice in his own humble and hardworking way.
“Marty hasn’t changed with success,” says Lee, “and that’s something I always admire about great players.”
Perhaps most important of all, baseball has taught Gantt how to succeed despite a handicap, and to transform himself from being a target for teasing to being an inspiration, both to teammates and fans, some of whom struggle with their own disabilities in life and athletics.
These days, Gantt’s peers find his disability endearing, affectionately referencing Gantt’s “nubs.” Previous teammates at Spartanburg Methodist College would “nub it up” when Gantt played well, celebrating a hit by giving him a high-five with their knuckles. At the College, there is similar veneration for Gantt’s talents and perseverance.
“He can do about anything you ask him to do,” Lee says, adding with a laugh, “except check his swing.”
Photos by Mike Ledford