By Trey McCurry.
Entering the 2010 season, Clemson returned eight starters in the field. The lone loss from 2009 was first- baseman Ben Paulsen, who was a third-round draft pick after the 2009 season. Freshman Richie Shaffer filled that role nicely in 2010.
Shaffer, who was listed as the #30 freshman in the nation by Baseball America, hit .323 with seven homers, 11 doubles, 36 RBI, and 45 runs in 48 games (44 starts) last season. The then-freshman was errorless in the field in 327 chances while missing 17 games from March to April due to a hamstring injury.
Shaffer also had a strong post-season. In the ACC Tournament, he was 5-for-12 (.417) with two doubles, one homer, five RBI, and five runs. Then in the Clemson Super Regional he had three homers, seven RBI, and four runs in the three games, including two critical homers in the series-clinching 8-6 win over #16 Alabama.
TheClemsonInsider recently sat down with Shaffer to discuss last season, his injury, and what he is looking forward to in 2011.
“Last season was one of the best experiences of my life. I had been waiting so long to get an opportunity to play for Clemson and stepping out on the field wearing that uniform for the first time was exhilarating. We started really hot and we were feeling very confident and things were going our way. After our hot start we hit a little adversity. We lost some close series and let some games slip right out of our hands. Our confidence definitely took a hit.”
Right before the team’s adversity, Shaffer had some adversity of his own to deal with. During the series finale against Virginia Tech, Shaffer stretched for a ball at first base, his foot slipped, and he did a complete split, injuring his hamstring. “Not only was this a difficult time for the team, but it was especially tough for me personally. It was tough for me to watch our team struggle knowing that I could do nothing to help, but I think the time I spent not playing really helped me to grow as a player. I was able to watch some of the older guys and their approaches to the game and I think I really gained a lot from that. But all adversity there is the opportunity for growth and that stretch (both mine and the teams) prepared us for the remainder of the season because our future success would not come easy.”
Looking back on the season, Shaffer said the turning point was clearing the series sweep over Florida State to end the regular-season. “The most crucial series of the year was Florida State, we needed to sweep to win the Atlantic Division and we did. That sweep really turned our whole season around. It rejuvenated our offense and gave us confidence entering the post-season.”
“When it was announced we were heading to the Auburn regional, the guys were a little surprised but excited. Auburn was one of the most hostile environments we played in all year. Not many people were giving us a shot to win so I think we really played with a chip on our shoulder. Just like the season, the regional was a rollercoaster. We won the first two games, lost an absolute heartbreaker Sunday night, and then we rebounded to win on Monday. It was just a rush of emotions, and to top it off, we found out after the final out that we would be hosting the super regional.”
“The super regional was awesome! The stadium was packed, our fans were loud, and the series was great. We lost a tough a game to start it off, but again our resiliency shone through once more and we rebounded the next game. I remember the mood in the locker room on Monday before the decisive game. It was much quieter than usual, but I don’t think our team ever felt so together and motivated than that day. It almost seemed like a movie. And then the last inning and all the madness just seemed a fitting ending to the series. Running out to the Cheap Seats was also a great experience, although I was so tired I couldn’t get up on the fence it was still awesome to see all the fans showing the support, and celebrating with everyone.”
Shaffer has nothing but amazing memories from being one of the last teams to play in Rosenblatt Stadium for the College World Series. “Being one of the final teams in Omaha was incredible…it was an absolute dream come true. I was like a kid in a candy store when we were walking around the stadium. The atmosphere was amazing. Stepping out on the field was something I will never forget. So much history and so many incredible players that played on that field, I was incredibly honored to be apart of the historical last year at Rosenblatt. We played hard and gave everything we had, we came up a little short, but it was still a memory that I’m sure all of us will keep forever.”
After such a long, grueling season, Shaffer joined many of his teammates in not playing summer ball this off-season. “This summer I stayed in Clemson and worked on getting stronger. It was a long, long year that really takes a toll on your body and I needed to recover and start taking steps to take my strength, conditioning, and diet to the next level. I focused on eating healthier and more, as well as lifting in the weight room four days a week. I put on 10 pounds over the summer and hope to continue that this fall to be in the best shape possible when the spring rolls around.”
With fall ball in full swing for the team, Shaffer says things are going well. “We have a good mix of older guys and younger guys and we have already meshed very well as a team. Coach LeCroy is a great addition to our coaching staff and has already begun working with all the hitters. Our strength coach Dennis Love has vamped up our lifting routine and I think we can all already see a big difference.”
As for the 2011 season, Shaffer’s goals are no farther than the word that is found on the back of every Clemson baseball hat…”Omaha.” “Our expectations are nothing short of a National Championship. We all come to Clemson to win and that’s the reason we work as hard as we do. We have a good amount of seasoned players who know what it takes to be successful and a class of young players chomping at the bit to get an opportunity to contribute to the team effort, so I am very excited to see what the season brings us.”
With a healthy Shaffer back, as well as many other key players, it is easy to see why he, and many fans, have high expectations and hope to open the new TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha in true Clemson style.