He may only be a sophomore, but South Carolina catcher Cole Messina has taken on a leadership role for the Gamecock baseball team.
“I take a lot of pride in leading,” Messina said. “I feel like I’ve always been like that. I do consider myself to be one of the leaders. A bunch of guys respect me, and I respect a bunch of guys. I think I lead through actions more than words. I bring a lot of energy to the table. I think that feeds to everybody.”
“He’s only a sophomore, but I’ve learned leadership things from him,” said senior shortstop Braylen Wimmer. “He knows how to play the game the right way and run the club house. He’s been good for us.”
After starring at Summerville High School where he earned South Carolina Player of the Year honors, Messina played in only 17 games with five starts as a freshman with the Gamecocks, collecting four singles in 30 at bats. He blossomed in year two at the plate and behind it. He enters this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional ranked second on the team in batting average (.313), home runs (17) and RBI (65).
“Just being myself has helped me become a leader,” Messina said. “The difference this year is just a confidence thing. It’s being confident in who I am and knowing I have the ability to play at this level. I had a really good spring this preseason, and I think that was the turning point.”
“They’re all different personalities. They all have different ways to go about things. You just have to adapt and be there for them.”
South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston has hailed Messina as one of the best defensive catchers in the country, and there’s a lot more to that than just being able to throw out base runners. It’s about how he handles the pitching staff.
“He is probably our number one leader,” said redshirt junior pitcher James Hicks. “He is our energizer. We don’t really run without him. He’s so nice to throw to. He makes you feel great out there, like you’re doing something right. He is out there saying stuff to us, telling us when we throw a good one. He helps your confidence when he’s out there. You feel like you can’t do anything wrong.”
“It goes back to leadership qualities,” Messina said. “They know I’ve got their back through anything, even off the field. There is a mutual respect. They trust me, and I trust them. It is a challenge because there are twelve different guys (pitchers). They’re all different personalities. They all have different ways to go about things. You just have to adapt and be there for them.
“The toughest part of my job is keeping my body healthy. We (catchers) get beat up a lot back there. I like that I’m involved in every play. You don’t lose focus.”
Messina started playing catcher when he was a little kid and never wanted to play anywhere else. Like many baseball players, he has adopted some superstitions, including wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle headband for every game.
“I lost my two black ones, and that was the only one I could find,” Messina said. “I thought Coach Kingston was going to tell me to take it off, but he didn’t. I usually wear the same stuff on my arms every game, the same headband, I shower before every game, and I drink a (chocolate) milkshake every night.”
As gets set for South Carolina’s Super Regional matchup at Florida this weekend, Messina is looking forward to the chance to realize every college baseball player’s dream of getting to Omaha for the College World Series.
“I just want to have fun,” Messina said. “We did a really good job of that last weekend. At this point in the season, you can only control what you can control and have fun. I just want to soak in every moment. It’s not everyday you get to play in a Super Regional. It’s hard not to look ahead because that’s everybody’s end-goal, but you just have to live in the moment and enjoy it.”