Dantzler’s determination leads to comfort zone — and solid stats

nwhite@thestate.comApril 18, 2013 

USC's LB Dantzler

JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com

  • BY THE NUMBERS A look at USC senior first baseman LB Dantzler’s numbers and where he ranks in the SEC:

    .326: Batting average, including nine doubles and a triple

    10: Homers, making him third in the conference

    38: RBIs, which ranks him seventh in the SEC

    .630: Slugging percentage, fourth best in the SEC

LB Dantzler remembers showing up at South Carolina baseball practice in the fall of 2011 as a junior transfer from the State College of Florida. He was a little nervous and still trying to figure out how he might fit in with the defending two-time national champions when he encountered Ray Tanner, then the USC head coach.

“I didn’t know what to expect. We had all these guys who had been there before, and I was trying to find my way,” Dantzler said. “Coach Tanner, the first week last year, said, ‘So, what’s your main position?’ I was like, ‘Oh no, they don’t even know my position. I’m a walk-on JUCO guy. I’m in way over my head.’”

When the Winter Haven, Fla., native replied that he played third base, Tanner said, “All right, go to third.”

But Chad Holbrook, then the recruiting coordinator, knew Dantzler could flat-out hit from those junior-college days and would find a place somewhere in the lineup. He quickly settled in and won the third-base job, starting all 69 games there for a team that returned to the College World Series championship finals while batting .262 with 15 doubles, 10 homers, 48 RBIs and making five errors on defense.

When he returned for his senior season after getting bypassed in the MLB draft last summer, he was no longer worried about fitting in. The respect he had earned in his one season got him voted as one of the three captains, along with fifth-year seniors Nolan Belcher and Patrick Sullivan.

“That was a really special thing for me,” Dantzler said. “This season the coaches know you, you have friends on the team, and you can joke around. It’s a lot more comfortable.”

Holbrook believes that comfort level has led to what can only be called a breakout season, as Dantzler resides in the Top 10 in several SEC hitting categories. He’s batting .326 with nine doubles, 10 homers and 38 RBI. His 26 walks, which have helped boost his on-base percentage to .437, speak to both his eye at the plate and the careful way that he’s treated by opposing pitchers.

“When you’ve been here a year and you know what to expect, I can’t tell you how important it is to be comfortable. When you’re a lot more comfortable in your environment, you’re a lot more confident,” Holbrook said.

“I don’t think he’s any better of a hitter than he was a year ago. I think he’s more mature, he’s using the whole field more, he understands the way we want to do things and the way we coach him.”

Dantzler is so comfortable that he made the transition across the diamond to first base. In order to accommodate talented freshman Max Schrock at second base, Holbrook moved returning second baseman Chase Vergason, Dantzler’s senior roommate, to third with Dantzler going to first, where he has been steady if unspectacular.

The two good friends have helped each other make the switch.

“If I ever had a question, he was right there to help me,” Vergason said. “We knew it made us stronger as a team if I moved to third and he was at first to hold down the corners.”

Dantzler, who partly credits his increased production to mentally navigating occasional small slumps at the plate, believes not getting drafted last summer was a blessing in disguise. He came back to school focused on having a better season at the plate, becoming a team leader and getting his degree in sports and entertainment management.

He was recently named USC’s male nominee for this year’s SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year for his classroom work and his community service. With a 3.64 GPA, he will need to complete an internship over the summer or fall after he finishes his course work this spring. He hopes to complete that internship with the minor league team that he’s playing on after he gets drafted. And his parents want him to go to graduate school when his playing days end.

Father Brad Dantzler — LB stands for “Little Brad” — played in 1983-84 for Florida, where he led the Gators with a .348 average in 1983. But despite going to football games in “The Swamp” while growing up, the Gators didn’t recruit the younger Dantzler to follow in his dad’s baseball footsteps.

He has no regrets over how things have worked out, however.

“I naturally thought that’s where I was going to be,” he said. “I tell all my friends now the best thing that ever happened to me was them (Florida) not wanting me to go there because I wouldn’t trade coming here for anything.”

Neither would his Gamecock teammates, who have watched their cleanup hitter carry them offensively all season.

“LB has been doing his thing,” Vergason said. “He’s producing out on the field. He’s clutch when we need him to be. He’s had a lot of big hits for us.”

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