COLUMBIA -- It took 19 broken bones, five torn ligaments, four surgeries and roughly 10 million swings off the pitching machine to get Ian Jenkins to where he found himself Sunday afternoon.
The redshirt freshman has had his fair share of bumps in the road over the last year-and-a-half at South Carolina, but all of that washed away in the third inning when Jenkins connected on an 0-1 pitch, hammering a 429-foot home run to center field for his first career hit in his second start.
“He’s taken 10 million swings since he got on campus, so I’m really happy for him. He’s overcome so many injuries. He takes as many swings as anybody but recently we’ve seen a shorter swing and a swing that might have a chance to play in a game,” Gamecock head coach Mark Kingston said. “We wanted to give him another chance today and he made the most of it.”
It’s taken a lot for Jenkins to be in a place where he can contribute 16 games into the season.
He’s battled injuries his whole life and even into college with Tommy John surgery derailing his freshman season, a back injury taking him out of fall practice and a knee injury limiting what he could do in the preseason.
Some of those have come playing sports but some, like the one he had his freshman year of high school, have just been freak accidents. Jenkins broke his foot that year walking into a restaurant, fracturing his third metatarsal.
Through all of it, though, he kept pushing. He didn’t quit, and it paid off Sunday with him going 3-for-4 and finishing a triple away from the cycle hitting in the designated hitter spot.
“I’ve had a lot of reasons to quit baseball,” he said. “I guess my love of the game compels me to go on. Days like this are why I keep going on. It was really fun.”
Jenkins has always been known for his power. The former football player, now a corner outfielder, looks like an SEC linebacker at the plate. And when he gets the right pitch to hit, can put it on the concourse in a hurry.
But his swing took a lot of refining with Kingston and the coaches before he was really ready to be inserted into the lineup.
He already had an intense hitting approach: heavy bat work to “get a feel for where my body is that day,” then swings off a tee to look at exit velocity before front flips and backside work with Noah Campbell before hitting off the machine, all before practice even started.
But it was a smaller tweak — just moving his hands up on the bat — that seems like it’s done the most good.
“My favorite hitter is Barry Bonds. I started choking up on the bat some. My power’s useless if I can’t make contact,” Jenkins said. “Coach King and I worked on a shorter swing and being direct to the ball. Once I did that, stuff started happening for me.”
Jenkins’ day Sunday wasn’t just big for him but for his teammates too. He was mobbed at home plate after the solo shot in the third and the dugout erupted after he roped a double down the left field line in the fifth.
While the 10 million swings off the machine might be a little high — T.J. Hopkins said it’s “pretty accurate” — Jenkins showed what he could do when given an opportunity.
“It honestly didn’t surprise me. It might sound crazy but I’ve hit a lot with him,” Hopkins said. “I always tell him how gifted of a hitter he is. He puts the work in. It’s awesome to go out there and do that. I’m not surprised.”
Olson gets national honor
Senior Jacob Olson has been named a National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball newspaper.
Olson had a tremendous week at the plate for the Gamecocks, hitting .522 with nine RBIs, six extra-base hits and multihit games in all five contests. He had a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the ninth to give Carolina a 3-2 win over Valparaiso on Saturday. Olson then had a pair of home runs and drove in five in Sunday's 12-6 win.
On the season, Olson is hitting .385 with a team-best seven home runs, seven doubles and 20 RBI. He also leads the SEC in total bases (53) and is second in slugging percentage (.815).
The Gamecocks travel to Charleston to face The Citadel in a 7 p.m. Tuesday game.