He’s the winningest pitcher in South Carolina Baseball history, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Kip Bouknight’s (1998-2001) #14 jersey is being retired this weekend at Founders Park when the Gamecocks host Auburn. However, the 2000 Golden Spikes Award winner was indeed caught off guard when he received the news.
“I’m beyond humbled and honored,” said Bouknight, who was a two-time All-America and two-time All-SEC selection. “I’m really thankful that I was a part of some great teams with a lot of amazing teammates. Several of them will be there to share the moment with me.
“I had definitely thought about it before. My kids would come to games with me, and one of them said, ‘dad, I thought you were good, where’s your jersey?’ I told them, it’s a really big honor, and there has only been two done so far (Ray Tanner and Earl Bass), and there were a lot of guys who played before me and after me that deserve that honor.”
Athletics Director Ray Tanner and Head Coach Mark Kingston made the phone call to give him the news.
“Coach Tanner called me and brought in Coach Kingston as the team was on the way to Vanderbilt a couple of weeks ago. Coaching Kingston said that (senior pitcher Noah) Hall is out, and we might need a Sunday starter. He said he asked Coach Tanner if I had any eligibility left, and Coach Tanner chimed in and said that I didn’t, and then Coach Kingston said, ‘since you can’t pitch, why don’t you come throw out the first pitch so we can retire your jersey.’ I held it together and told them thank you, and then when I got home, I was trying to get my youngest boy to baseball practice, and I just lost it. I had to gather myself after that so I could get him to practice.”
The Columbia native was originally looking at other colleges to play baseball, and it was fortuitous that he played for his hometown team.
“I did grow up a Gamecock fan,” Bouknight said. “When Coach Tanner came to South Carolina my senior year of high school it made it an easy decision for me because I had gone to a camp at N.C. State (where Tanner was previously coaching) when I was in the ninth grade, and I got hand-written letters from (former assistant coach) Jim Toman and Ray Tanner. They heavily recruited me and made an impact on me. Once he came to South Carolina, I said, I’ve got my favorite coach that recruited me and now I’ve got my hometown school! It’s time to come to South Carolina.”
“I’m definitely going to push to get a lot of other folks’ jerseys retired because we have a great baseball tradition, and I’d love to see that wall filled up.”
Bouknight went 45-12 in his four years pitching for the Gamecocks, tossing a school record 482 innings and starting a school record 66 games. He is also South Carolina’s career strikeout king with 457 whiffs. In 2000, he posted a stellar 17-1 record to help lead the Gamecocks to a 56-10 overall record and an SEC Championship. Seventeen wins is a school record and is tied for the most wins in a season by an SEC pitcher, which earned him the prestigious Golden Spikes Award presented by USA Baseball as the top amateur baseball player in country.
“There were so many great moments,” Bouknight said. “I had great teammates. Three or four weeks into my freshman year, I was pitching on Fridays. Brett Jodie (1997-98) was a junior during my freshman year and was going to be a big guy in the draft, and he treated me like a brother. He was a great mentor for me and a great friend and teammate. Then my junior year, we were 50-6 in the regular season and 25-5 in the SEC. That was a tremendous year. It was a lot of fun. I hate that we didn’t get to Omaha, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying.”
Bouknight was selected in the 13th round of the 2001 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Colorado Rockies. After eight years in minor league baseball where he got as high as triple-A ball, he hung up his spikes.
“It was a great experience,” Bouknight said. “I spent probably six and half years in double and triple-A. I felt like the call was going to come, but it never did. I pitched in (Major League Baseball) spring training games a lot, but never made it to the big leagues. It just wasn’t in God’s plan for me. It’s definitely a grind. It’s a chapter of my life where I certainly learned a lot and enjoyed it.
“Then it was time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life. It’s the hardest transition ever. It’s not talked about enough when you go from doing something you had done your whole life to it being completely gone. It is extremely tough, but it was time to grow up and get a real job. There have been mental challenges through the years, and I still dream about baseball all the time.”
Bouknight still gets his baseball “fix” by working as the color analyst for SEC Network+ television broadcasts at Founders Park. He now sells business insurance for Insurance Office of America. He married his high school sweetheart, Dee, and the couple has two sons, Case (11) and Sumpter (9). He looks forward to having his family see his number go up on the wall in left field.
“It’s going to make people remember that era, and it will bring people back to when (college) baseball really started making a big turnaround again here and became extremely relevant in the SEC and nationally,” Bouknight said. “It’s going to make people remember a lot of the really great teammates that I had. Think about this, I had three shortstops in my career, and they were Adam Everett, Brian Roberts, and Drew Meyer. I don’t know if you can find three better, and we’ve had a lot of great shortstops here!
“Again, I’m humbled and honored, and I’m definitely going to push to get a lot of other folks’ jerseys retired because we have a great baseball tradition, and I’d love to see that wall filled up.”