It didn’t take long for Coach Monte Lee ’00 to figure out that he wanted Carl Wise to be a Cougar. The College’s staff had watched him play and knew that he could “flat-out” hit. In fact, they graded the Lexington, S.C., standout as the best hitter in the state. But it was a comment from one of Wise’s high school coaches, Mark Bonnette, that stuck with Lee as he weighed giving scholarship offers to a handful of rising high school seniors.
“Mark told me, ‘If he goes somewhere else, you’re going to wish he was playing for you,’” Lee recalls.
Fortunately, Lee heeded that advice and didn’t have to find out the hard way. What Lee didn’t know was that Wise, who – in hopes the College would call – had put off other scholarship offers just the day before, would have attended the College regardless because he had fallen in love with the city and the school’s strong biology program.
“I thought I could at least try out as a walk-on,” Wise recalls. “And if that didn’t work out, I would focus on the sciences.”
Well, baseball worked out. It worked out really well. Wise, who didn’t break into a regular starting role until mid- March, played both first and third, hit for a .321 average and led the Cougars in home runs with 10 (hitting five of them in the last five games of the season). In slugging percentage, he ranked seventh in the Southern Conference and 39th in the nation.
But it was his last game in the SoCon Tournament that really raised eyebrows around the league and nation. Wise went 4-4, with two home runs, a double, a single and four RBIs.
“The ball looked like a beach ball,” Wise laughs. “Everything I saw, I was hitting. I have no idea how I locked in that way.”
And that’s why he loves baseball: its unpredictability, its glory and defeat wrapped together in one.
“Baseball is the hardest sport to play,” Wise believes. “It builds a lot of character because you have to be able to handle failure a lot more than you do success. And just like in life, baseball is really about how you respond to that failure, how you adjust.”
In Lee’s eyes, Wise is adjusting just fine: “Carl’s a special player and a great teammate. He plays the game hard, but he doesn’t play mad. He doesn’t get frustrated and has a level of maturity about him. He’s an intelligent, likable kid.”
What’s not to like? Here’s a slugger who hits for average, with a good head on his shoulders. That’s exactly what other coaches thought when they evaluated his first collegiate season. Wise garnered NCBWA Freshman All-American honors and a place on Baseball America’s Freshman All-America second team.
“Now, comes the fun part as a coach: seeing him develop right in front of your eyes and making that jump from his freshman to sophomore year,” Lee observes. “Carl is definitely coming into his own.”
Opposing pitchers, beware.