Spartanburg’s Gantt never backs down from life, baseball challenges
Marty Gantt was running out to his spot in right field Sunday night for pregame warm-ups when a gust of wind caught his cap and blew it off his head.
“My hat is way too big for me and every time I run it comes off,” the Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) College freshman said. “The wind was kind of blowing and it came off and I tried to grab it. My cleat got caught in my shoestring and I tripped and fell.”
Gantt came up laughing, covered in mud from the persistent rain that has plagued the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series this week.
“That’s not the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done,” Gantt said. “I’m not worried about it.”
Gantt doesn’t worry about much of anything. Certainly being born without fully developed fingers on his right hand isn’t anything to fret about.
The umbilical cord got wrapped around his right hand in his mother’s womb, preventing the fingers on his right hand from developing. He has a fully formed right thumb, but his fingers stop about where the middle knuckle would be.
“Mom just told me I’m like everybody else,” he said. “Me being a little kid, I didn’t know any different. Little kids made fun of me, but I kind of overcame that and showed them I could do anything they could do.”
Gantt can certainly play baseball. The son of a high school coach, Gantt was hanging around the ballpark all the time growing up.
“Other kids were on the playground, I was playing baseball,” he said, grinning.
But little kids can sometimes be cruel, and Gantt was an easy target.
“The first time that really hurt me, I was coming off the school bus and a kid made fun of me,” he said. “I was crying, and my mom asked me why I was crying. I told her some kid was picking on me. She told me, ‘You’re just like everybody else, don’t ever
listen to what anybody says. Do what you do and do what you do best.’ ”
What Gantt does best is play baseball.
He hit his 18th home run of the season Sunday night and entered the JUCO World
Series hitting a team-leading .426 with 58 RBI.
“That shows how smart I am, hitting him leadoff,” Spartanburg coach Tim Wallace said. “People ask me ‘Why do you have him hitting first?’ He shows up with such energy and he makes things happen. Would it help us if he was hitting three? Yeah, but I don’t know how many people will get on in front of him. Maybe next year he will hit three for us, but this year he’s been a (leadoff) guy and he’s gonna stay there.”
From the stands, you can’t tell Gantt has a small hand. He wears a normal outfielder’s glove and a pair of batting gloves, which he takes off when he runs the bases, gripping one in each hand.
“I don’t want no special glove, I want everything everybody else uses,” he said.
Gantt is a polite young man, saying “Yes ma’am” and “Yes, sir,” looks people square in the eyes and doesn’t shy away from shaking hands with people he meets. He’ll show you his right fingers, which he calls “nubs.”
“We joke around about it. It don’t bother me,” he said in his southern drawl.
“Somebody in the stands could say something, I couldn’t care less. It’s just what they think, their opinion. We say ‘nub it up,’ stuff like that. (My teammates) know it doesn’t bother me if they say stuff like that.”
After being teased as a child, Gantt refuses to let words sting.
“You can’t hurt his feelings,” Wallace said. “Talking about it doesn’t bother him at all.
“I’ll be standing there ready to coach and he’ll pat me on the back with his nub or pat me on the fanny and say, ‘Have a great day, Coach.’ My typical line is, ‘Marty, my day depends on you guys,’ and he says, ‘Good. I’ll see you in a minute.’
“His parents have done a great job with him. They’re good people, just good ol’ country folks. His dad’s a coach. They’ve done a good job preparing him for I’m sure the stuff that was said when he was a kid. We all know how kids are, but it doesn’t bother him now.
“If people didn’t tell you that his hand was like that, you’d never know. You might see those fingers flapping on that batting glove when he’s hitting, but it would never register that he’s got nubs on his hand.”
Wallace has found one thing Gantt can’t do well, and that’s try to check his swing.
Gantt agrees that he has trouble stopping the bat with no fingers on his top hand.
“I swing one-handed and sometimes I’ll try to check swing and I’ll let go of the bat because my hand’s not big enough to hold onto it,” he said. “The bottom hand’s the strong hand anyway, you don’t use the top hand other than to keep the barrel up.”
Gantt is also a pitcher the Pioneers turned to Tuesday as they started their climb through the losers’ bracket. He’s 8-2 in 11 appearances.
Like the check swing problem, the only thing that hampers Gantt on the mound is a sharply hit ball that can knock the glove off his right hand.
“If he gets a comebacker with a little speed on it when he’s pitching, it knocks his glove off and it makes him mad,” Wallace said. “Oh, it makes him mad.”
Gantt had a chance to play at South Carolina this season but his SAT scores weren’t high enough to get him into a Division I school, which helped him find his way to Spartanburg.
His play this season has several schools vying for him when he’s done at Spartanburg.
“ACC, SEC, he’ll have his choice,” Wallace said. “He’s a good student, not a great student, but that SAT got him. We were fortunate to get him. We had to bust our butt to get him, but we were fortunate to get him. He’s paid great dividends for us.”
Gantt doesn’t see his hand as a disability, and he doesn’t want any special favors.
“He’s a baseball player,” Wallace said. “That’s never been a handicap for him, it’s never been a disability. If we can stay around here a few days people will fall in love with him because he can play the game.
“We don’t ever have to worry about Marty Gantt showing up. He can play.”