Diamond Notes: Marty Gantt

It’s a tossup
By: Jeff Sentell, The Augusta Chronicle-Thursday, April 19, 2007

North Augusta’s Marty Gantt might be the hottest pitcher in the area. The junior already is in the discussion of the greatest pitchers in Yellow Jackets history.

"There’s Kevin Lynn and Matt Wilson and there’s Marty now," North Augusta coach Vic Radcliff said. "He’s had a year that has him right up there with those two."

Gantt has struck out at least 10 batters in every start. The southpaw with the nasty curve and nastier slider has 109 strikeouts in eight starts and two relief appearances. He’s paired that with a 7-1 record and a sub-2.00 ERA heading into the first round of the state playoffs against Mauldin at Riverview Park today.

He’s struck out 14 or more batters five times. He totaled 17 strikeouts in the Midland Valley win. He fanned 15 White Knoll batters in a 2-1 loss; both runs were unearned. South Carolina offered him a scholarship this month.

Gantt plays center field when he’s not on the mound. He’s the leadoff hitter. His batting average is well above .400.

"You get spoiled," said Wilson, who’s now North Augusta’s pitching coach. "He’s a competitor. If it’s the seventh inning and we need something started, he’ll hit a double off the fence. If it’s the sixth or seventh inning and we’re up by one we bring him in to close. We’ll walk off the field with a win. No coach wants to say any kid is automatic, but Marty is close. He’s at the top of his game right now."

The young man behind the arm is even more impressive.

It starts with why he works so hard to play the game he loves. His father, Bobby Gantt, calls him a "baseball rat" because of the way he hones his craft. The 5-foot-11 lefty said North Augusta’s Riverview Park is about as comfortable to him as his bedroom.

He visits both places with the same frequency.

"I’ve been dedicated to being the best player I can be since I was 10 years old," he said.

Not bad for someone whose family was not sure he could play the game until he was 8 years old.

Gantt was born with only "nubs" on his right hand. It forced him to go to his left hand.   That was a baseball gift. Left-handed pitchers have always had an advantage on the diamond.

"I don’t know," Gantt said. "Maybe whatever God didn’t put in my right hand he added extra to my left arm. Maybe. Everything he does, he does for a reason."

When he was young, his family went to the Shriners hospital in Greenville, S.C., for a special mold so a glove would fit on his right hand.

"We’re lucky God left him with his thumb," Bobby Gantt said. "That way he can still play this game, can still hold on to a glove, can still grip a bat. He had to have that thumb to do those things."

It’s as much of an impediment to Marty Gantt as the loose dirt he would brush off a baseball.

"When Marty was little and kids asked about it, he would say he misbehaved," said Bobby Gantt, who coaches at North Augusta. "He would tell the kids he was lying and saying bad words and his mom cut the ends of those four fingers off as punishment."

Everyone laughs at that. None louder than the guy it applies to.
"He cracks the other guys up on the team with the funny signals he makes with that hand," Radcliff said. "He handles it the best way we’d want to see anyone handle that situation in life."

A team rallying cry is to "Nub up." That’s the word used to describe what he does when he high- fives a teammate.

"It started freshman year with catcher Jason Wilson and caught on," Marty Gantt said. "I always called them my nubs. No big deal. It’s how I was born. I can’t do anything about it."

A procedure was suggested to remedy the condition.

"The doctors told me when I was young they wanted to put rods in my fingers and I would not be able to play ball anymore," he said. "I told that doctor he was pretty much crazy."

His personality is revealed further with a simple question, whether he has any baseball superstitions.

"I eat tuna before every game," he said. "And a hot dog."

It’s one of his eccentric ways. He tallies every strikeout just above the brim of his cap. He never ices his arm after games. There’s also his fast-food disinterest.

"I won’t eat it," he said. "You don’t know what those places put in their burgers. The only hamburgers I eat are the ones that my mom makes."
So what does he eat?

"I hate Mexican food," Gantt said. "Hate Chinese food. Hate Italian. Hate Japanese food. Basically if it’s not American I’m not eating it."
He sounds as American as Norman Rockwell and baseball.
Ask him about his favorite player.

When was the last time a young player said Ty Cobb?
"He’s my guy," Gantt said. "I liked his intensity, desire and the way he played the game."

That connection is tainted by geography. Gantt’s mother, Theresa, was raised in Stephens County near Cobb’s Royston home. Gantt has been to the Ty Cobb Museum there. He didn’t just stop by to pick up a T-shirt.

"Do you know what happened to Ty Cobb’s dad?" Gantt asks.
Gantt pauses.

He’s killing the subject with his grin, like he’s in class and knows the answer to a teacher’s question. He waits to answer. Just because he can.

"He got shot by his wife climbing into the window of his house," Gantt says. "She thought he was a robber. Not a lot of people know that about Ty Cobb."

He plays something he calls the name game with a poker player’s abandon. The idea of the game is for his opponent to name a big leaguer. He will name another whose first name begins with the last name of the player who was just named by his opponent. Gantt knows the last names that begin with X’s and Z’s in the major leagues today well enough to go three deep with those names.

"You can’t beat me," he said. "It takes a few guys to beat me."
He seems to have all the answers on the mound, too.

"There’s no probably to it about who’s the best," said Wilson, who was a scholarship pitcher at South Carolina. "He is the best pitcher we’ve had at North Augusta. Me and Kevin were never this good. We never had his explosive breaking stuff. Marty’s the best. It’s the truth."

Note: The pictures are courtesy of The North Augusta Star.