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Interview: Kip Bouknight II

DP-What are your thoughts on helping build the USC program but not getting to play in Omaha?

KB-It was bittersweet when they went the year after I left but I was happy as I could be. I still follow them and feel like a part of the team because I still workout with them in the off-season. I always follow them and pull for them. I remember what it was like to have Brett Jodie come back and work out with us, you’re always a part of what goes on there. It was nice to be a small part of the success they have now. Coach Tanner’s really instilled an attitude, now they expect to go to Omaha. I can recall playing number #10 Florida and that was a big deal. When I pitched and we won against #3 Alabama, he told us to get used to this, that it’s what we’re going to do here for a long time. We had to earn respect and realize than there is no good loss, just like losing by a touchdown doesn’t impress anybody.

DP-Did you feel like you were under-drafted? Does that make you feel as though you have something to prove?

KB-I really did feel like I was under-drafted and that does give you a little boost. I don’t play to prove people wrong though.

DP-Your freshman season was spectacular, did you think you could have that kind of year?

KB-I’m sure it surprised a lot of people. I thought I could contribute and I knew I could pitch better than I did in the fall. In the fall I was trying to be a two-way player and did not perform well on the mound. Following my fall meeting with Coach Tanner, I realized I might be the last pitcher on the staff to get into a game. I was just trying to make the first travel squad to Charleston. I knew I could do it but at that point I would need an opportunity. I did the most with my early opportunities and things went from there. Once I began to have success, my expectations grew. Coach Meyers did a good job of keeping me focused on making my pitches and did not allow me to get caught up in what was going on.

DP-Talk to us about that magical season of 2000 when you won the Golden Spikes Award:

KB-What a remarkable year! We went 50-6 in the regular season and 25-5 in the SEC which is a record. I was part of a great pitching staff and we did a lot of things to make it a special season. That year did put my name on the map and exposed me to the media which has really helped me and, if I make it to the Major Leagues, should benefit me as well. I got to go to Las Vegas to accept the award, while there I got to talk with Greg Maddux, Harold Reynolds and Evander Holyfield. It really didn’t change me as a person. I didn’t get too caught up in it all; it actually humbled me because I had a senior year to get ready for.

DP-Take us through the decision-making process to return for your senior year:

KB-Well, it came down to the final week before school began. The A’s had actually called me in the 8th round and offered me a pre-draft deal for the 9th round and I declined. They ended up taking me in the 21st round and offered me twice the original amount. In the end, I really wanted to return to college and I knew it was in my best interest to go back. The money wasn’t “life-changing” plus, if I make it to the Major Leagues, money won’t matter anyway. I also new if I returned for my senior year it would cost me a lot of money. It was a tough decision. I ended up signing a year later for $7,000. Do I have any regrets, absolutely not! I set myself up for life after baseball and I believe people in Columbia and Gamecock fans respected that.

DP-Tell us what you’re doing in the off-season:

KB-Staying very busy! I always workout in the mornings, usually 8:00 until lunch. After I eat, I run errands and also am helping sell houses by ---- (you fill in here, was unclear). Four to five nights a week I do lessons from 3:30 to 8:00. I work with kids from all over the state that come to me. I normally take Friday and Sunday off. By the time the season rolls around I am actually worn out!

DP-What is your gameday routine?

KB-I used to be a huge routine-oriented guy but in pro ball your travel schedule dictates almost everything. Sometimes a flight has you traveling through the night and landing at 6:30 in the morning so you sleep half the day. Sometimes you arrive at 4:00 for a 7:00 game. One time the grounds crew forgot to cover the bullpen mound the night before my start, of course it poured that night! I ended up having to throw my entire pre-game bullpen on the game mound…right in front of the other team! Mentally I was thinking, “Are you kidding me?” Routines now require constant adjustments. Ideally for a 7:00 game I’ll go to sleep at 11:00 or so the night before and wake up at 7 or 8:00 to eat breakfast. I like to stay busy, some pitchers like to sleep all day or play video games. If I’m at home I’ll go to the mall with my wife and have lunch between noon and 1:00. In college I’d eat every Friday at Lizard’s Thicket with my mom or my then-girlfriend who is presently my wife. Around 4 or 5:00 I’ll eat a peanut butter or turkey sandwich, I prefer, peanut butter. A lot of guys just grab a cheeseburger from McDonald’s on the way to the park. An hour before the game I’ll shower and begin to get my thoughts together. If I need to I’ll stop by the training room. At 35 minutes before the game, I get a good stretch from the trainer. Then I jog to the centerfield fence or run a couple of poles, depending on how hot it is. I always run a couple of sprints because we have to hit and run the bases too. For a home game, 25-28 before the first pitch I’ll start playing catch with my catcher. About the 15-minute mark I am on the mound in the bullpen making pitches. I focus on locating the fastball down first and go from there. I never evaluate my bullpen, I leave it there. If the curveball is no good, it’s no good. I always tell people to take what’s best and run with it. Your catcher will tell you what’s good that day, the hitters will tell you too! At 5-6 minutes before gametime I shut it down in the pen and get a sip of water, go to the bathroom, whatever…

DP-What is the difference between high school to college ball? College ball to pro ball?

KB-It’s so much faster the higher you go. Even now when I go back to watch college games, younger players make the game look so much harder. Young players don’t know how to make adjustments quickly. In pro ball you don’t have three days to dwell on a game. You have to make adjustments from at bat to at bat. In the Big Leagues they make adjustments from pitch to pitch. I will say this, I’ve hit fungos to Todd Helton and he’s petty good. Watching Justin Smoak (USC first baseman) over there, he might be as good as I’ve ever seen. When you consider how many people start out playing this game, it’s really amazing if you get the opportunity to play Division I ball, any level of college ball for that matter. Two percent of the players drafted make it to the Major Leagues, there are only 700-800 Major Leaguers in the whole world. People just don’t realize how special those guys really are.

DP-What do you have to do to pitch in the Major Leagues?

KB-Make the most of an opportunity and I’ve got one now. I went 14-7, made the All-Star team and got overlooked with the Rockies. I just need somebody in my corner. I can do a lot of things, I even stole a base this year! If Coach Tanner was in the Big Leagues, I’d be a Big Leaguer, he knows I can win. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Cy Young Award winner but I think I can be a fourth or fifth starter for somebody and eat up 180-200 innings a year.

DP-Where do you see yourself in April?

KB-My dream says Pittsburgh, people have made the club with a Spring Training invite before. I know I have to pitch lights-out and some injuries have to occur for me to get a shot, I don’t wish any bad luck on anybody but I really have a good feeling about this year! I’d hope that the worst-case scenario would be landing in Triple-A Indianapolis. But I guess I could be in Double-A or released too, you just never know.

DP-What are some of your nicknames?

KB-Booky, people have trouble pronouncing my last name!

DP-What is your greatest high school thrill?

KB-Throwing a no-hitter against Union during my senior year.

DP-You come from a tradition–rich high school program at Brookland-Cayce and a good coach in Charlie Assey. How did that better prepare you for college baseball?

KB-Good competition breeds success. We played great teams and were well-coached. We played in the IP Classic and you are put up against some great players. It made the adjustment to Division I baseball smoother.

DP-What is your greatest thrill, or two, beyond high school?

KB-That whole junior season at Carolina. There were so many fun days that year. Personally, it was beating Clemson my senior year. I came in from the bullpen, they had men on base and we got out of a big jam against their big hitters that year.

DP-Who are the toughest hitters you faced in high school and in college?

KB-In high school, Reggie Taylor was a great hitter. Corey Jenkins, but I had his number! College, Monte Lee was pretty tough for me, he got me twice in the same game and then Jason Pomar later in that game. Brad Hawpe and Brad Wilkerson too.

DP-What was your most difficult adjustment (in and out of baseball) after high school?

KB-Everything. Academics are tougher, time management. As a young man you have all the time in the world to do whatever you want and you have to figure out what to do with it on your own. Mom and dad aren’t there to make you do what you need to do, you are on your own.

DP-Sell the South Carolina baseball program to a high school player trying to decide where he wants to play:

KB-I was always so comfortable with the coaching staff and still am. All of them do so much more for you than just coach you. It is a first-class operation, it’s done the right way. If a player gets in trouble, it doesn’t matter who you are, the punishment will be consistent and fair. Every player is given an opportunity in the fall. It doesn’t matter what a player’s scholarship amount is, I was on low money. With a new stadium coming it’s going to be a great place to play. After my junior year I was trying to decide what I should do, sign or return. Coach Tanner had a lot to gain if I came back, it would have been real easy to advise me to decline the offer…but he didn’t. He looked past the program and himself and gave me very good advice, he looked out for my best interests. I’ll always be grateful for that.

DP-Tell people out there what it feels like to sign a professional contract:

KB-It’s a great feeling but humbling too. I guess I’ll look back on that one day as big deal but it’s such a business. I’m proudest that I’d graduated from South Carolina when that day came. I am the person I am today because of the college experience. I’ve seen players blow $2.2 million in signing bonuses after they sign, I just focused on making myself a better baseball player.

DP-What is the biggest crowd you’ve ever performed in front of and where?

KB-It was in the Venezuelan All-Star Game. About 30,000-35,000 people were there for Andres Galarraga Night. I was the starting pitcher that night and he came in to see me before the game. He was huge and his head looked like a size 9! He came up and said, “You’re the pitcher tonight?” I nodded and he told me I had to groove him fastball’s because it was his night. Before I knew it, Tomas Perez and Magglio Ordonez were asking for fastball’s too since it was an exhibition game. Now here I am trying to prove something and make a name for myself, everybody already knew them! Well, Galarraga was batting fourth and I was only throwing one inning so I knew I might not face him…but I did. He came up with Endy Chavez at third and two outs. When he got to the plate he was given a standing ovation and he tipped his cap. It probably only lasted 20 seconds but it seemed like 20 minutes. He looked out at me and I gave him the fastball sign with my glove. We both cracked up and I had to leave the rubber to regain my composure. I decided I was going to throw him fastball’s but I was going to throw them as hard as possible. The count ran to 2-2 and I threw one last fastball down the pipe and he swung threw it. You could have heard a pin drop and I was scared for my life! There were fights throughout the night and I just knew I was about to get shot! In the third inning he doubled down the left field line and was approached at second base by a half-naked blond lady and he gave her his jersey. In the fourth inning they brought a podium out and he addressed the crowd. I was really glad he got that double in the third inning. After the game I found out that the 2-2 fastball was 92 MPH. In fact, I did not throw him a fastball under 90…that’s only a big deal because I normally pitch at 86-88. I was so pumped up!

DP-What MLB feat in history do you wish you’d been inside the stadium to witness and why?

KB-I would have liked to see Babe Ruth play or seen Hank Aaron’s #715.

DP-Who is the biggest character that you have played with?

KB-I’d have to say Trey Dyson, he was crazy.

DP-Do you have a clean locker room or road trip story you can share with us?

KB-In college, on Sunday’s we’d usually jump on the bus after games and eat pizza so we could get on the road. We’d normally split a large pizza between two players. Coach Toman would walk through the bus and accuse players of “stealing pies.” It was normally directed at players who didn’t play or didn’t play well, he’d go up and tell them they were stealing pies. Then he’d come to me and say, “Bouknight, you haven’t done anything since Friday, you’re stealing pies too!”

DP-Who has made the greatest impression on you as a person and why?

KB-Early on, my parents. Dad was a super role model. Now, my wife is amazing! She is from a divorced home. She really keeps me grounded and is the most influential person in my life. She has put her entire life and career on hold to support me.

DP-Who has made the greatest impression on you as a baseball player and why?

KB-Matt Holliday (Colorado Rockies), we are very close friends. He has really persevered and has made the most of his opportunities. He is a super human-being. He was a .260 hitter in the minor leagues but made the most of his time in the Arizona Fall League and when he got his shot as an invitee to spring training. He has every tool and a great work ethic and now he’s an All-Star! I was so excited for him when he got the call to the Big Leagues.

DP-Who is your favorite athlete outside of baseball?

KB-Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. I have not watched an NBA game since Jordan retired and if Tiger is leading by five strokes, he wants to win by 15.

DP-Who is your favorite MLB pitcher and position player to watch and why?

KB-Greg Maddux, it’s amazing what he can do with a ball, legal or illegal, and he fields his position well too. Gary Sheffield, it’s amazing to see him swing a bat, he really has great hands.

DP-Who is was your favorite MLB team growing up?

KB-Braves

DP-Who was your boyhood idol and why?

KB-Don Mattingly

DP-What is your favorite sport to play other than baseball?

KB-Golf

DP-What is your favorite sport to watch other than baseball?

KB-Golf

DP-What are some of your hobbies?

KB-Golf, fantasy football

DP-What is something people don’t know about you?

KB-I love to play X-Box 360

DP-What goals do you have for yourself in and out of baseball?

KB-I want to get to the Big Leagues and continue to develop consistency. I want to develop consistency as a person too. Sometimes I allow myself to be too vulnerable to people but I like to do good things for people. I like for people to know me and respect who I am as a person. I want to be a good influence.

DP-Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

KB-Pitching in the Major Leagues I hope. I’m not a power pitcher so I should be smarter and better by then, many pitchers don’t reach their prime until 35 anyway. If not, I’ll be playing lots of golf. I’d like to coach, probably at the college level, definitely not in the minor leagues.

DP-Give a high school player who is reading this article one piece of advice.

KB-If you want something, go get it but understand it will take a lot of hard work. Make the most of what you are. Who knows what your potential is but try to find out. I have always done everything I can possibly do to get where I want to go, you don’t want regrets. Remember, you only get one shot at this game.