COLUMBIA — As James Darnell chatted Wednesday morning with a reporter about South Carolina baseball teammate Reese Havens, someone started whistling in the Sarge Frye Field outfield.
It got louder and louder. The frequency of the whistles increased. Someone was imploring Darnell that it was time to terminate the interview and join the team for pre-practice stretching.
It was Havens.
"I think he's yelling for me right now to get out there," the Gamecocks' third baseman said, backpedaling and spinning toward the outfield grass. "That's why he's our team captain."
Havens has been a team leader since he set foot on the South Carolina campus in 2006.
But, still, there was something missing.
Havens hadn't duplicated, or even approached, the sort of offensive production that he notched at Bishop England, where he hit .530 his senior year.
Despite earning a freshman All-SEC nod, mostly for his defensive efficiency at shortstop, Havens hit just .259 his first year at USC. He followed by improving to .274 his sophomore season.
"He was a tremendous human being and a great player his first two years, but his offensive numbers didn't equate to what he thought it should be or what I thought it should be," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "When your guy's not playing as good as he should be, no matter what the position is, you feel the same pain as a coach."
The hurt was soon quelled. Working with his Cape Cod coach, former North Carolina coach Mike Roberts, Havens overhauled his swing last summer.
He hit .315 in the Cape with a wood bat, earning Cape all-star honors for the second straight summer. Roberts, the father of major leaguer Brian Roberts, said he thinks
Havens was the best hitter in the Cape. And that's saying something.
Havens carried with him what he learned in Massachusetts and applied it in the South.
He shot out from the season's gate to hit three home runs, drive in nine runs and score nine times in the Gamecocks' first four games.
But here's the thing: Havens sustained that quick start.
To go with that unquestioned leadership ability — one of the best Tanner says he's ever seen — he had become an offensive force at the top of the order. All because of dropping his hands to shorten his swing.
"I wasn't surprised because the things I was taught and the things I worked on have been proven in baseball to work," Havens said. "I was happy with the results and I felt comfortable doing those things."
Havens finished the regular season and SEC Tournament with a .363 average, second on the team to first-team All-SEC first baseman Justin Smoak.
His 55 walks are tied for the team lead with Smoak, who is often pitched around in the middle of the order.
After hitting nine home runs in his first two seasons at USC, Havens hit 16 in his junior year.
His walk-off homer on the regular season's final day against Tennessee carried the Gamecocks into the SEC tourney. Otherwise, they would've been sweating for a week, waiting to see if their regular season resume was enough to net an NCAA bid.
Georgia's Gordon Beckham, the SEC's player of the year, is the only thing that kept Havens from the league's first team. He landed on the second team.
And, with an eye toward the future and the June 5 major league baseball draft, he's catapulted back onto everyone's early-round board. Havens might go late in the first round. It's no secret that Boston has coveted him since high school.
Tanner said it's one of the most profound offensive turnarounds he can recall in his long coaching career.
Darnell said it's "huge" and "big time" what Havens has done, helping the offense to forget about losing Travis Jones' production when the second baseman left for the minors.
Havens' home run total is behind only the team's expected boppers, Smoak, Darnell and senior DH Phil Disher.
When asked about his season, Havens shied from talking about the numbers. He's not done yet, he said.
"I feel like I've had a pretty decent year," Havens said. "I'm not satisfied with it. We've still got a long way to go. It's not really anything to summarize yet."
Reach Travis Haney at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out the new South Carolina blog at www.charleston.net/blogs/gamecocks.