Jun 07, 2018
By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
As a young player growing up in Owasso, Okla., Jonah Bride was usually the smallest player on the field. But there was always one thing he was known for.
"I was always small, but I could play shortstop and pick it, and that was what I was really known for," he said.
When he wasn't fielding ground balls on the diamond, he was throwing a tennis ball against a wall, or playing "wall ball."
It was Bride's glove that earned him an opportunity to play at Neosho Community College in Kansas, where he was moved from shortstop to third base. It was also where his bat started to come alive.
"Growing up I was more defensive-minded. Then when I got to junior college, I got a little bigger and stronger and could hit the ball more gap to gap," he said. "I have always really been a defensive guy and I have just tried to work on hitting."
It was Bride's bat and glove that attracted the attention of South Carolina. In junior college, he had a phenomenal freshman season, hitting .471 with 96 hits and 14 home runs. His 93 RBI ranked third nationally among junior-college players.
One of Bride's high school teammates, Braden Webb, had signed with South Carolina and convinced assistant coach Sammy Esposito to take a look at the young third baseman. After Esposito saw him play, Bride was invited to South Carolina for a visit.
"It was LSU weekend and it was awesome, the atmosphere and everything. It was really indescribable at the time," he said. "I had never seen anything like it. That's what really got me to commit and ever since I have loved it and it's been a dream come true for me."
Bride, who was selected in the 23rd round of the MLB Draft by the Oakland A's, has been a fixture at third base the last three seasons, a steadying influence that his teammates called "The Rock" earlier this season. He has started all 180 games the past three years and been a model of consistency, hitting .283 as a sophomore, .282 as a junior and driving in 32 runs both seasons. As a senior, he has been even better, finishing the regular season at .302 with 35 runs scored, 26 RBI and a .420 on-base percentage.
And as usual, his defense has been stellar. He made just three errors as a sophomore with a .975 fielding percentage. As a senior, he fielded .979 with just three errors.
"He's having a career year offensively, so that's great to see when guys are in their last season and they have found something to help them have career years," Kingston said. "And obviously, he is regarded as one of the top third basemen around. He is going to be missed."
Bride realized a childhood dream Wednesday when he was drafted. He was at practice when one of his teammates yelled from the dugout to tell him he had been selected by the A's.
"We were actually running in from the dugout and someone who was in the dugout had their phone and they yelled it and that was a pretty cool moment for me and for everyone," Bride said at practice Friday. "We had other guys like that where we were all around when they were picked, so it's awesome, team bonding and everything. We all love each other."
Gettin a chance to play professionally is something Bride has worked hard for his whole career.
"A dream come true for me. Something I have wanted to do my whole life," he said. "Getting that opportunity and for the rest of our guys that got drafted as well, it is awesome. But we're focused on this weekend and we just want to play as long as we can as a Gamecocks."
While Bride has saved countless runs with his slick glove at third base, he is most proud of his hitting this season. He hit better than .330 most of the season and had an 11-game hitting streak, the longest on the team. He also reached base in 30 consecutive games from Feb. 21-April 12. And he consistently stepped up in big games, going 7-for-10 with five runs scored in a series sweep over Tennessee and collecting three doubles and three RBI in a win over No. 1 Florida.
"It's been better, for sure," he said. "I'm just trying to have quality at-bats and I think it's been pretty good this year compared to last year. I'm making strides."
Bride has also been a key leader for South Carolina. Kingston calls him a "quiet, consistent leader" who leads by example. He has shown it with his play in the field and at the plate in some of South Carolina's biggest wins. Hitting in the middle of the order most of the season, he had three hits and scored four runs in the three-game sweep over LSU. He homered and drove in three more runs in a big road win at Vanderbilt and continued to get on base and drive in runs during the stretch run. He homered again in the NCAA Regional to cap South Carolina's push to the Super Regionals.
Bride and Stokes both attended Kingston's introductory press conference last June. He knew then they he would have to step up and help his team through the transition and become a leader during his senior year.
"It kinda hit me that I needed to step up this year and be more of a leader," he said. "When coach got introduced, we had a conference call and you could just tell. He said, 'Are you guys ready?' And the other side of the phone with all of us just exploded. Having that pride and being ready to get after it this year from day one has been great."
So has his three-year career in the garnet and black.
"It's better than I imagined," he said. "It really is a dream come true. … I have loved the last three years and I wish I could spend more, to be honest with you."