Winning a College World Series is a tough task to complete, how about step into Steve Bondurant’s shoes and see how he accomplished this milestone.
Growing up in Matthews, North Carolina, Steve “Bondo” Bondurant began to develop his game at the Matthews little league baseball fields. This was just the start to the game that he would play for a long time. Bondurant, a soon to be six foot left handed pitcher, learned how to play hard from a young age. Known for his hardwork and dedication to the game, Bondurant had a very successful baseball career all the way from high school and into the pros.
A graduate of the class of 1998, Bondurant left his mark on the Providence Day community. "Bondo" had a breakout junior and senior year for the Chargers. His Junior year he led the team with a .466 batting average and 15 doubles. Although these stats are quite impressive, it’s not how Bondurant became famous. He was the best pitcher on the staff, and questionably the best in the state of North Carolina. He went 15-1 on the mound, while the team was 18-8 his junior season. On the mound his senior season he was a whopping 10-1. Most impressively, Bondurant finished his senior year with a .69 earned run average (ERA) and 112 strikeouts.
As a Charger he finished with a record of 45-9, also he was All- Conference all four years, All- State in his final three seasons, he was named The Charlotte Observer player of the year his Junior and Senior seasons, and he was named to the USA Today All-American team his senior season. Along with all of these accolades, Bondurant had over 75 offers once his career at Providence Day came to end. He received offers from some of the top baseball schools in the nation like: the University of Miami, University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, Clemson University, Univeristy of South Carolina, and Florida State University.
With a lot of great options how did he narrow down his list? When talking about his process of choosing a college Bondurant says, “I knew I wanted to stay in North or South Carolina, so most of the schools that offered me weren't even a consideration". After narrowing down the list, it was down to UNC and USC. UNC always had a special place in Bondurant’s heart because his father went to UNC and he grew up rooting for the Tar Heels. Just when Bondurant was about to make his decision, the coach at UNC got fired, “which made the decision easier”, Bondurant told me. Bondurant chose to attend the University of South Carolina.
The adjustment from PD to USC was "tough", but Bondurant eventually settled down. He described the change as a “big adjustment going from All-American and big man on campus, to a freshman trying to get playing time”, it was just different for Bondurant. His freshman year didn’t go as planned but “turned out to be a true blessing”. Bondurant tore his meniscus and had to redshirt his first year. He said, “redshirting gave me more time to get bigger and stronger and allowed me to sit back and learn from the older guys on the team”.
Because he didn’t play his first year he came into his Sophomore year eager to get on the mound for the Gamecocks. He made a few appearances his sophomore year and was just waiting for his time to have a chance to succeed at the college level. It wasn’t till his junior year that Bondurant became an everyday starter. Being the sunday starter, Bondurant had to pitch in pressure games frequently throughout the year.
Bondurant’s first appearance at the College World Series came in relief against Georgia Tech in a game one loss. “We knew it was going to be a tough road to get out of the losers bracket, but I had faith in my team”, said Bondurant. His Gamecocks team was going to need to beat in-state rival Clemson twice if they wanted to keep their season alive.
In a lose and go home situation, USC won game one. In game two, Bondurant was the guy that Gamecock nation looked to to punch their ticket to the finals. The 6-foot lefty pitcher from Providence Day School was set to make the biggest start of his career against the offense heavy, Clemson Tigers. On the way to a 10-2 upset victory, Bondurant led the Gamecocks with an outstanding complete game performance.
“It was the biggest game of my career. My performance in the spotlight, put me on the map for getting scouted for the pros”. It was at this point when “Bondo” realized that he had a chance to be great and fulfill his dream of playing baseball in the pros. Winning the College World Series gave him more confidence and made him realize that he could do it. The following year, Bondurant’s final year as a Gamecock, he was named the number one starter on the team. The Gamecocks won back-to-back College World Series with Bondurant.
Selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 15th round, Bondurant was ready to fulfill his lifelong dream. Immediately, he was sent to Vancouver Canada, where he played for their Single-A team, the Canadians. The first year in Vancouver, Bondurant went 0-2. His success in college didn't transfer over to his first year as a professional baseball player. Many times throughout the offseason, he questioned if he truly belonged in the league.
It was a good thing Bondurant stuck with it because he got moved to the Midwest League in Chicago, where he posted a sub one ERA, and finished 14-2. In the middle of the year he got moved up to Double-A in Midland Texas. Bondurant flew into Texas, and on that same day, started his first game for Midland. In his first start, Bondurant threw an 8 inning shutout. Bondurant says that, "this is when I realized this is for me, I can do this". Bondurant stayed in Double-A for two and a half years.
Bondurant began to have discomfort in his shoulder, later being diagnosed with a torn labrum. After surgery and an entire offseason of rehab, Bondurant returned to the field, but said, "my arm didn't feel the same. I think I kinda pushed it too hard". He then had it checked out for a second time and found out that he was going to need to have another surgery because he re tore his labrum.
"Bondo" worked hard to get back to how he was playing before he injured his shoulder, he just never did. When he made his return to the diamond, Bondurant got moved to Triple-A in Sacramento. Unfortunately, after playing in Triple-A he was stuck and had nowhere to go. Eventually, Bondurant got released by the Oakland A's before ever making it to the MLB. Bondurant said, "my arm never felt the same when I returned, it was about time to call it quits anyways". Although his career as an A came to an end before he made it to the big leagues, Bondurant had a very successful baseball career. He did everything he needed to do to get himself to the majors, it just didn't work out.
After his baseball career came to an end, Bondurant worked as an academic advisor at USC. He was an advisor for the baseball, men’s soccer, and volleyball team for seven years. “I left USC because it was time to come home and be closer to my family and friends”. Currently, Bondurant is the Head of Alumni Relations at PD and an assistant coach for the varsity baseball team. He told me, “it is great to be back to the community that gave me so much when he was growing up”. Bondurant is starting his third year at PD and looks forward to many more years.
All photos courtesy of Steve Bondurant