UNC's Gore a true role player

Senior is happy to do whatever it takes to help the Tar Heels win

CorrespondentMay 19, 2009 

It was a long weekend for Garrett Gore.

Three days of baseball in April against Miami, the No. 7 team in the country at the time -- days that seem a little longer now that he's making a trek to and from the outfield 18 times a game.

There is tape on his wrist for stability -- it had been bothering him for a few days.

There is ice on his shoulder -- the throws from the outfield can take a toll.

But whenever Gore sits with his North Carolina teammates, signing balls and posters for a line of fans that Ryan Graepel said with a groan "just keeps getting bigger," the grin on Gore's face stretches as wide as the St. Louis Arch. "He's infectious, I think, is the best word," North Carolina assistant coach Scott Jackson said of his converted right fielder. "[Because] whenever you're around him, there's always a smile, there's always energy.

"There's no doubt in your mind that he's having fun with whatever he wants to do."

Like a postgame autograph session.

Like his entire North Carolina baseball career.

That's been said of Gore throughout a college experience that began with him playing second base for the Tar Heels.

Then he was a third baseman (for a day or so) before moving to shortstop. He has been a designated hitter, and now he's the team's right fielder. "He's an unbelievable athlete," said UNC catcher Mike McKee, Gore's best friend. "I mean, first, he's the best second baseman that I've ever played with or seen."

McKee wondered, however, how Gore would adapt to this most recent position change. Gore had never played in the outfield before.

"Honestly, through the course of this year, he's become one of the best outfielders I've ever seen, as well," McKee said.

Gore was more than a little wary of the switch to the outfield.

"I think it was like the first weekend, I made a diving catch, and I got confident. I was like, 'I can play this position,' " he said.

Of course, starting center fielder and housemate Mike Cavasinni said there might be more to that dive than meets the eye.

"You know, he's doing really great out there, but I think he really tries to play up catches. Like, he'll wait a little too long so then he has to dive for it," Cavasinni said with a laugh. "I always get on him for that, 'cause I know he does it to get the crowd going and everything."

Coach Mike Fox said he didn't even know where Gore would play before the season started. Fox had planned on putting him at second base, but when freshman Levi Michael joined the Tar Heels after graduating from high school a semester early, Fox decided Gore would do better with the transition to the outfield.

"Garrett's been all about the team ever since he got here," Fox said . "In fact, he came to me about playing the outfield. To kind of say, 'Coach, I don't care where I play.' "

It helps that Gore just wants to play. And he wants to win.

That's why he'll do anything it takes for the Tar Heels to do just that. This season, that means playing right field. Last season, it meant sitting the bench.

Playing shortstop during his junior season, Gore struggled down the stretch. He finished the season with 21 errors.

So just before the Tar Heels started postseason play, Ryan Graepel took over at starting shortstop for Gore, who contributed at DH.

Gore started to focus on offense as a designated hitter, and it was a vast change because he and Fox always had placed defense as his focus.

Now batting second in the lineup, Gore knows his primary task is to get on base, however he can, for the sluggers coming up behind him. Gore takes walks, hits or takes whatever pitchers throw at him.

Fox said what helps his team the most is Gore's ability to make the most of whatever opportunity his coaches give him.

"The most important thing he brought is that he didn't pout or sulk. It was all about the team," Fox said of Gore's role last summer in the College World Series. "So he sent a great message. 'Look, I want to help this team, wherever you want to play me.' "

Yet, the same Garrett Gore who vows to do anything to win, who spends extra hours fielding and hitting to improve up to his own expectations, also is one of the first to break out a silly dance to lighten the mood.

Gore, McKee and Cavasinni are famous - or infamous, as the case may be - for several YouTube videos in which they have remade music videos in their apartments.

"Why?" Gore said in mock surprise. "Well, 'cause we're clowns. And 'cause we love dancing."

Just don't tell his coach.

"Between innings, I'll look out there, and he'll be - I can tell he's wanting to break out when a good song comes over the PA, and I'm going, 'Garrett, please don't. Please don't try to do the shuffle or whatever out there in right field between innings,' " Fox said.

Gore admitted the mood has struck on the field.

"Oh, yeah, I'm actually dancing," he said. "I just haven't got caught yet".

Gore has just a few more weeks to dance as a Tar Heel - this weekend's ACC Tournament in Durham and a regional and a super regional they hope to host at Boshamer Stadium. Then, if all goes according to plan, there will be one more trip to Omaha for the College World Series.

"Man, nothing compares to Omaha," Gore said, smiling. "I would trade every tropical cruise, vacation, everything for that week there."

After three previous trips with the Tar Heels, it's no surprise that the thought of winning it all his senior season sneaks into his mind every now and again.

"Watching the basketball team and the seniors on that team leaving like they did [with the 2009 NCAA championship], that's exactly what I want," he said.

Gore is still trying to wrap his mind around the looming end of baseball, the sport he has been playing for 17 years. But Gore knows he has other options. Many of them come from that UNC diploma he is on pace to receive in December.

"I didn't think I was ever going to go to college, so the day I get that diploma will be the greatest thing about playing here," he said. "There's nothing else - I could go 4-for-4 or win a national title, and my parents will be proud of me, but that's going to be the biggest thing."

Gore said he and McKee are talking about getting jobs as waiters somewhere to make some money. Gore is confident they'll rake in good tips because they're so good at talking to people.

Recently, he told Fox he wanted to be an entrepreneur.

"I said, 'Do you know how to spell that word? Do you know what that is?' " Fox said. "He goes, 'Yeah, I'm just kinda gonna make my own way.'

"And that's probably what he'll do."

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