16 January 2007

Clemson Baseball: Where we’ve been… Where we’re headed…

When I hear the word “baseball” come to mind, I’m reminded of smells, tastes, sounds, and good memories. Smells like sweat and dry, freshly raked dirt. Tastes like sunflower seeds and Gatorade on a hot afternoon. Sounds like the distinct “ping” of a metal baseball bat coming in contact with a baseball. Memories like watching Matt LeCroy, Kris Benson (pre-crazy wife era), and Dexter McLeon win the ACC Tournament at the old Greenville Braves stadium after having played a baseball game of my own just a few miles down the road in Mauldin. Some of those great memories come from my own experiences of playing the game in my back yard with my brother and dad, some of those memories come from my own experience as a little leaguer, but the best memories come from days spent at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Obviously, the game of baseball has been around longer than any of us have, but it’s something that is important to us Americans as our basic everyday freedoms in life. It represents the every day pleasures in life that Americans have the privilege of partaking in.

Successful baseball programs have usually had a history of success that they build upon to continually win championships. Prime examples are the New York Yankees, the Atlanta Braves, and the Chicago White Sox. Clemson has seen it’s history built upon success since 1958, the year the Tigers won their first ACC Regular Season Championship. It was also the first year that they played in their first College World Series.

The Clemson baseball program is fortunate enough to have seen two great coaches in Bill Wilhelm and his protégé, Jack Leggett, build the Clemson legacy. Wilhelm coached for 36 years and built a dynasty by leading the Tigers to sixteen Regular Season ACC Championships, seven ACC Tournament Championships, and five College World Series appearances. Coach Wilhelm practically built a respected college baseball dynasty from the ground up.

Jack Leggett: Triple G... Triple OG

In 1994, Coach Wilhelm passed the reins on to assistant coach Jack Leggett. Coach Leggett had been the recruiting coordinator and assistant coach during the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Leggett has continued to build upon the Clemson baseball dynasty by tacking on three ACC Regular Season Championships, two ACC Tournament Championships, and five more College World Series appearances during his twelve year tenure. Coach Leggett even achieved all three feats last year. Leggett’s crown jewel is leading the Tigers to the semifinals of the CWS, just barely being edged out by rival South Carolina (who went on to get shellacked by Texas… sorry, I just had to add that in there). If not that, in April of 1994 and 2006, Clemson ascended to the #1 ranking in the nation according to Collegiate Baseball. The rankings were just the second and third #1 rankings in Tiger baseball history. Seven times in 1994, Clemson defeated a team ranked in the top three in the nation under the helm of Jack Leggett. He also led Clemson to the number one spot in many baseball ranking polls last season, and achievement which they held for a few weeks.

Will the Tigers be celebrating another trip to the CWS come June? I think so.

The Tigers have already been ranked #2 and #3 in the Collegiate Baseball and the Baseball America preseason polls, respectively. Clemson looks to be one of the stronger teams in terms of returning starters. “We must replace some of the good players from last year’s team, but the nucleus is back,” said Leggett. “We have a strong group of infielders returning, as all four starting infielders from last year’s team are back. I don’t think that has ever happened since I’ve been coaching.” The Tigers must concentrate on replacing Catcher Adrian Casanova and outfielders Tyler Colvin and Travis Storrer.

This past off season, Leggett signed fourteen highly touted recruits to build to the Clemson baseball dynasty. I think that I can say for sure that if Jack Leggett hangs around, my kids will be able to see Clemson turn into an unstoppable baseball program. That is... if we can actually WIN a World Series... but I feel pretty confident that this year is special. Of all the teams in the ACC, we are by far the strongest.