With the Clemson Tiger baseball team hosting a Super Regional this weekend, putting them two wins away from a trip to Omaha, now is the time to check the tire pressure and oil level on that bandwagon, because it is about to fill up.
It happens every year, and honestly probably at about every school that has a baseball team, except maybe somewhere like Rice, that the baseball team is the little sister of football and basketball. It is a cycle that isn’t always the same, but it is always predictable. All you have to do is look at the expectations in the preseason, if they are high, then the team will get more attention from more “fans”, if they are low then everyone is saying “when does football start?”.
This is not a knock on Clemson fans at all. Clemson fans are the most loyal fans that I know of. You do believe me, right? Okay, so maybe that is a stretch, but let’s just get on with it.
The cycle came full circle this season for the baseball team, more than once really. Fans got things started preseason this year, because as you may remember from my columns then, expectations were high, and rightfully so. If you remember that, you may also remember that I said more than once that pitching would be shaky, but that by the season’s end they would be grooving. Guess what?
This year’s Tiger team got things started about as hot as any team can, going 17-2 over the first 19 games. Fans were going crazy, talking crazy, and as we would find out, some set their expectations at a level that was, well, crazy.
After that 17-2 start the team began to falter, started off by a two game sweep handed to them by Elon. Yes, Elon. Okay, so we already established that pitching would be an issue this season. Not lack of talent, mind you, but lack of experience. Both of those games were weekday games, meaning they were weekday(young, in this years case) pitchers.
Okay then, so the Tigers had a couple of unexplained losses to a far inferior opponent after a near perfect start to the season, but most fans were willing to look past that and towards the rest of the season. They weren’t able to look far though, because the number one team in the country, Virginia, was sitting just two days away. After dropping two out of three to the talented and hot Cavaliers, things seemed to come apart for the Tigers.
Over the next 34 games including the Elon and Virginia games, Clemson would go just 17-17. That same team that started 17-2 over 19 games, now found themselves at 34-19 after 53 games. Factor in that some of those 19 losses came to teams like Charlotte, Elon, Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest, and you begin to see why the wheels started coming off of the bandwagon about this same time.
Here is the thing though, during that stretch that included losses to those type teams, the Tigers also dropped in some quality wins. Those wins that included sweeping Georgia, sweeping Maryland, and taking 3 out of 4 from Florida Gulf Coast, a team that also made post season play. Still though, a lot of fans had begun to ask the question, “when does football start?”, and most everyone had written off much chance of making noise in post season.
Surely Clemson had ruined it’s chances of winning the division or hosting a regional, and there was absolutely no way they could land a Super Regional, right? What were we thinking though? I mean, there was no reason to worry about Super Regionals, this team wouldn’t make it past a regional, especially one on the road, right?
However, during all those ups and downs, one thing remained constant. Coach Jack Leggett kept telling us after each and every one of those losses that the team still had confidence, the team still had goals, and the team still could achieve all of those goals. It was easy to believe at first, but I have to admit, there was a point where, as a Clemson fan myself, I might have had just a shred of doubt in my own mind.
Never-the-less though, technically he was right. As impossible as it sounded, Clemson really could still win the Atlantic Division. All the Tigers had to do………..sweep Florida State. Hmmm……now that sounds easy. Just sweep the division leading Seminoles, and it’s all yours.(surely you picked up the sarcasm). Well, low and behold, when this team faced three MUST WIN games, they did just that. The Tigers swept the Noles, and won the Atlantic Division doing so.
Oh boy, here it comes. We could all feel it, the wagon was rolling back in. Even in the media you saw it. There are other media outlets that haven’t covered more than five baseball games all year, and they were there for the third FSU game.
Now fast forward to the ACC tournament in Greensboro, NC. The Tigers were coming in hot, and were looking to make some noise. Fans had started to pay attention again and things were looking up. Enter Virginia Tech and NC State, two teams the Tigers had swept in regular season play, and exit the Tiger’s chances of the tournament championship. Clemson lost both of its first two games before pounding Georgia Tech, which ironically the Tigers had been swept by in regular season play.
So, here we go again, right? I mean, the Tigers faced two teams they had swept earlier, and they lost both games. Face a third team, a team that not only had swept the Tigers earlier, but a team that was playing for a trip to Sunday’s ACC Championship game while the Tigers were playing for nothing more than pride, and Clemson crushes them.
If that doesn’t define how the season had gone up until then, nothing does.
So here they were, waiting to find out their destination for a regional, hoping and thinking all along that it would most likely be a trip to Myrtle Beach to take part in the Coastal Carolina regional, but that wasn’t to be. The bracket makers chose to send Clemson to Auburn, AL, as we all know. Well, again the odds were a little stacked against the Tigers, yet again, they overcame Auburn’s powerful offense, home field advantage, and a ninth inning heart breaking loss and won the regional.
That puts us to where we are now, quiet possibly on the verge of a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, where this Tiger team has planned to end up all along. As the banner in right field at Doug Kingsmore Stadium says “the Road to Omaha Starts Here” and that is something that every Jack Leggett coached team sets their goal at each and every year.
Thanks to clutch play when they needed it, and thanks in part to a little luck too, the Tigers now sit in the driver’s seat for Omaha, now playing back home against Alabama for the Super Regional. And now, thanks to that, it is time for all the fans and media alike to converge on Tiger town, and help these kids get there! Six weeks ago, no one except the players and the coaches would have given this team a chance at Omaha, yet they sit now two wins away from that very thing.
The time is here folks, and these Clemson Tigers have shown that they believe and always have, and they have overcome some pretty steep obstacles to get here. It wasn’t easy by any means, but here they are. Now will you do your part? Doug Kingsmore stadium needs to be rocking this weekend. Fans should come out and help the Tigers secure that ticket to Omaha. Even more importantly than that, fans need to come out and show their appreciation for what this team has done this year, regardless of the Super Regional outcome.