Madie Lee was born at the baseball field. Since she could crawl, she has come to every one of her father’s games, Clemson head coach Monte Lee.
Like her dad, Madie knows baseball inside and out. She loves the game, and she loves when she sees student-support and young adults like herself come to the ballpark with tremendous energy.
Knowing her dad’s Clemson team was still reeling from a heartbreaking loss in Game 1 of its series with No. 2 Louisville on Friday night, Madie saw the Flamingo Gang, a group of Clemson students who carry around a pink flamingo named Damien who has become the unofficial mascot for the baseball team this season. The Flamingo Gang has become famous for its energy at Doug Kingsmore Stadium and on the road.
So Madie, knowing she had some seats available, approached the Flamingo Gang and asked if they would be her guest down by the dugout.
“No one even thought about saying no,” said Avery Jenkins, one of the Flamingo Gangs charter members.
Madie knew what she was doing. Immediately the Flamingo Gang, who normally sits in the Chapman Grand Stands in left field, brought a charge to the 5,164 fans that came to Doug Kingsmore on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Monte said. “I did not know she was doing that, and she did not tell me she was doing it. But I was glad to hear them come in here and support us and bring some life closer to the dugout.
“We can hear them out in the Chapman Grandstands, but to bring them into the ballpark by the dugout was pretty cool. It was good to see them there and we love having their support.”
The Flamingo Gang rattled Louisville pitcher Kade McClure early on as he tied his season-high of four earned runs allowed by the fourth inning. He also gave up home runs to Chase Pinder and Andrew Cox.
The electricity and atmosphere at Doug Kingsmore Stadium was at all-time high as the Flamingo Gang engaged the crowd with its taunting of McClure and its undying support for the Tigers.
“It definitely helps in the dugout,” Monte said. “It is amazing when our crowd is loud and is behind our team, it makes a difference. It really does. You can see it when they play on the road. We play in places where they have a passionate fan base and it is tough to play in ballparks like that. So hopefully Damien the Flamingo and the Clemson student fan club, if that is what they are called, will keep coming and keep supporting us and keep being loud. Heckle, but don’t heckle too hard and bring that energy to the ballpark.”
The Flamingo Gang, which started as a joke prior to Clemson’s win over Winthrop on March 29, will keep bringing its energy. The group of students led by Ben Thomas, Michael Marianos and Jenkins, have been to every home game since the Tigers came from behind to beat Winthrop 6-5 in 11 innings. They have also made an appearance at a few road games.
“We had a sorority function that night which was Hawaiian themed so I brought the flamingo as a joke,” Thomas said. “We ended up winning in extra innings. Then we took it to Georgia Tech that weekend. We brought it Friday and won, then we forgot it at the hotel Saturday and lost and brought it back Sunday and we won again. So we thought there was some magic with it so we just bring it. The players have bought into it and they play along with it.”
Since then, the Flamingo Gang has taken off. Damien the Flamingo has his own Twitter and Instagram accounts and you can see him sitting out in left field during every game.
“I feel like it definitely helps out. Not everybody knows us personally, but they know who the Flamingo is,” Jenkins said.
And because of that, fans and the players at Doug Kingsmore Stadium want to see them less in left field and closer to home plate.
“It would just add to the electricity in the stadium,” Jenkins said. “Like in the first inning of Game 2 of the Louisville series you could tell. We had multiple players’ parents after the game coming and talking to us, asking us if we would be back tomorrow and just talking about how electric the first inning was.
“We have had multiple players tell us to get out of the outfield and come over there because of the noise and the atmosphere that we brought over there so being able to move over there would just add to the electricity of Doug Kingsmore.”
However, the possibility of that happening is doubtful at the moment. In 2010, the Thomas F. Chapman Grandstands were constructed, adding 1,000 seats that were built for the students.
“Yes, we can be heard from out here, but I feel like the main part of the stadium is where the students need to be,” Jenkins said. “I feel like students participating in sporting events who are not actually on the team have a big impact on the games.”
In Death Valley, students, not all, sit on the hill or just off to the side of the hill and are a very important aspect of the atmosphere that makes Death Valley so loud and intimidating. At the new Littlejohn Coliseum, some students stand courtside so they can make the atmosphere there a little more intimidating.
At baseball games, students are in left field, away from the main part of the crowd and feel like they are seldom a part of the overall environment on game days.
“We know that whole (home plate) area is big-time money paying, season-ticket holders, but even if we just had a couple of student here and there, I think it would bring the energy up to a point where it helps this team get that extra push they might need one game,” Marianos said. “Obviously, if the whole student section was there it would be even better, but there are only so many things that can be done.”
Monte admits he has no control of the seating areas, but he is not opposed to anything that could help make the atmosphere at Doug Kingsmore better than it is.
“I think it is great if we can find a way to bring energy closer to home plate. That is a good thing,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. Our fans have been awesome to us all year so anytime we can bring energy and a loud passionate atmosphere into the ballpark, that’s good for our ball club.”
“Often times the game will be kind of dead, but once somebody starts something everybody kind of gets into it and it is usually the students that start whatever that is to get everybody more into it,” Marianos said. “I think if we are sitting amongst most of the fans in the stadium, once one person starts getting into it in the student section then everybody starts getting into it and that is how you get the atmosphere that we created in the first inning (on Saturday).”