The road to Omaha for the Clemson baseball team started on Friday when the Tigers began fall practice.
It’s a new season, the second under head coach Monte Lee, but the expectations within the program remain the same.
With that said, Lee and the Tigers are taking it one step at a time.
“We talk about having an ‘Ohama level of expectations’ in everything we do,” Lee said on Friday. “Obviously our goal is we want to win the ACC, we want to go to Omaha — everybody in our league wants to do that. But to do that — to put ourselves in that position as a program and as a team — we have to have a tremendous work ethic and a tremendous attention to detail in everything we do from a practice standpoint.”
Though Lee has a season at Clemson under his belt, things don’t feel “old hat” to him.
“I always look at every year as a new challenge, and I never tend to think that now that I’ve been here for a year, I’ve got it all figured out and I’m comfortable and all that,” Lee said. “I just try to be myself. I’m going to try to do the same job this year that I did last year, but learn from last year and try to make some adjustments as a head coach and work in new things.”
Clemson exceeded expectations in Lee’s first year, when the team won 44 games, its first ACC championship since 2006 and hosted a regional for the first time since 2011.
Seth Beer — who exploded onto the scene as a freshman, hitting .369 with 18 home runs and 70 RBI — said Clemson’s success last year gives the team excitement, energy and something to build off of moving forward.
“Definitely big things to build on, but it’s one of those things you’ve got to keep in the back of your mind,” Beer said. “You think about it for a little bit, but now we’re back to square one. … We know what we have in the tank, and just (have to) strive a little further to get to the ultimate goal of going to Omaha.”
The 2016-17 team will look much different than the 2015-16 version.
Former starting catcher and team leader Chris Okey headlines a list of key players the Tigers are tasked to replace. Okey was selected in the second round of the MLB First-Year Player draft, followed by starting shortstop Eli White in the 11th round and starting second baseman Weston Wilson in the 17th round.
Lee said juniors Chris Williams and Robert Jolly will share time behind the plate. Seth Beer and senior Andrew Cox will both play first. Sophomore Jordan Greene will have the opportunity to man second, while newcomers Logan Davidson and Patrick Cromwell will get a good look at shortstop and third base, respectively, according to Lee. Junior Adam Renwick can play all over the infield, as well.
“This year, we’ve got a bunch of unique challenges with a whole new infield and a new catcher,” Lee said.
While the infield is undergoing a transformation, the outfield will shake out similarly to last season, led by juniors Chase Pinder and Reed Rohlman.
As for the pitching staff, Lee believes there will be a lot more depth.
“Our pitching staff will definitely be much deeper,” Lee said. “We have a lot more options now. We still have to figure out who’s going to be Friday, Saturday, Sunday, who’s going to pitch at the back end of games and those types of things, but we feel like, in terms of pitching options, that we have a lot more.”
Lee said he enjoys this time of year because it allows him to identify areas of improvement and develop new ideas after an offseason of reflection on his last team.
Clemson knows what it wants to achieve at the end of the season, and the Tigers’ eyes are on the prize of Omaha. But right now, beginning with the first day of fall practice on Friday, the focus is simply on getting better, bit by bit.
“We have a lot of new guys here, and we’re really just scratching the surface of trying to teach them the type of work ethic and the type of effort we’re looking for out of our players,” Lee said. “So, we’re right at the beginning, but right now we’re just trying to get our team a little bit better each and every day.”