After a year away from the classroom, Kyle Martin (2012-15) came back and finished what he started. While his professional baseball career is still in front of him, the former South Carolina All-American first baseman has already taken a huge step for life after baseball by coming back to school through the Carolina Degree Completion program and is earning his degree in mechanical engineering this week.
"I busted my tail for four years, I might as well get it done now," Martin laughed. "Really, I'm not sure if anybody in my family graduated from college. It's something I've prided myself on. I worked really hard to complete something, so I wanted to see it through. I didn't want to take a lot of time off and then come back and not know what's going on. I wanted to come back while it was still fresh in my mind."
The Carolina Degree Completion Program is part of the Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise and is for student-athletes who left the university in good academic standing to pursue a professional career, or did not complete their degree due to personal circumstances. The program allows those former student-athletes to apply to be readmitted to come back to campus and finish their degree. They have all of the resources that are offered to undergraduate students such as tutoring, laptops, and use of the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center.
"It's a great opportunity," Martin said of the program. "To have that degree means a lot. It opens doors."
After earning First Team All-American and First Team All-SEC honors as a senior, Martin was selected in the fourth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft by Philadelphia and played his first full season in high A baseball in Clearwater, Florida, this past year.
"It definitely would have been more difficult if I waited longer to come back to school," Martin said. "It took me about three weeks to get adjusted to it all again. Once I got back into the routine, it all started coming back. It's been a long road. I took a Creo Parametric class this semester, which is full of design. I thought that was one of the coolest parts of my four-plus years here."
Martin noted that coming back was tough, but fulfilling. With his father being a mechanical engineer, Martin grew up doing a lot of puzzles and working a lot of math problems which created an interest in the field. Martin had become close with one of his professors, Dr. Michael Sutton, during his playing days with the Gamecocks, and he had encouraged him to complete his degree after staying in touch while playing professional baseball.
"He sits on the third base line during all of our games," Martin recalled. "He and I hit it off, and every now and then I would go into his office just to talk. He went over the classes I had to take, and he really helped me out to get back into it. (Athletics Director) Coach (Ray) Tanner helped me out, and so did (Senior Associate AD/Academics and Student Development) Maria Hickman over at the Dodie. Everybody was helpful."
Martin enjoyed some great memories as a Gamecock, including going to the College World Series as a freshman, as well as playing in front of a capacity crowd at Founder's Park when South Carolina hosted Clemson.
"Beating Clemson at home my freshman year was one of my best memories," Martin said. "It was so crowded. I loved it. There were a lot of memories my senior year as well. I hit my first walk-off home run (against Kentucky), and I hit for the cycle (at Florida). There are a lot of memories."
Martin understands the importance of earning his degree because he knows there is a time when he'll have to step out from between the white lines of the baseball field.
"It might not hit me at first, but I know one day when baseball is over and I really get to use my degree, it's going to mean even more," Martin said. "I know it means a lot to my parents. They've given me so much help and encouragement. It's been a lot of long nights and a long journey, but I know deep down that it's going to be heartwarming to know I put the work in and got it done."
Now that the coursework is done, Martin looks forward to putting in the work in pursuit of his professional baseball career at Spring Training in March.