By Trey McCurry.
Last season was a tough one for Clemson infielder Jason Stolz. Expected to battle for playing time on the Tiger infield, Stolz suffered a back injury in early March and had to miss 13 games. As a result, John Hinson took over as the starting third baseman and never looked back on his way to hitting .351 with 17 homers, 75 RBI, and 25 steals. However, Stolz kept his head in the game and earned his chance to be re-inserted back into the starting lineup, this time at shortstop. Stolz responded and played a key role in Clemson’s sweep of Florida State and clinching the Atlantic Division title.
In 2010, Stolz made 37 appearances (22 starts) and hit .222 with 14 RBI and four steals. He recently sat down with TheClemsonInsider.com to discuss last season, his injury, and the 2011 season.
“If you look back at last season, you have to say that it was a very successful one. We were a great group of guys that had incredible team chemistry. We won the Atlantic Division, the Auburn Regional, hosted and won our own super regional, made it to Omaha, and were one of the last four teams still standing at the end. Despite all that success, we were still left with a sour taste in our mouths. It is awesome to make it to Omaha, but it is another thing to walk away a national champion, and that was our ultimate goal. Although I was sidelined with a nagging injury, I still had a great time showing up everyday to work and get better with my teammates. I could not have asked for a better group of guys to endure a season with, and that is a trend here at Clemson, being surrounded by great people. Under the leadership of Coach Leggett, I feel that we have a great shot to put ourselves back in Omaha and help open the new stadium.”
As mentioned earlier, Stolz injured his back early in the season and talked about the injury and dealing with it all throughout last season.
“Last year was definitely frustrating for me as I battled a tough injury in my lower back. It lingered on for about five or six weeks and took away most of my defensive mobility. The most difficult part for me was not being able to help my team out on the field in any way. Having to just sit back and watch really took a toll on my mind because I had never really had an injury like that before so I was not prepared for the adversity I faced. Ultimately I just had to grit my teeth, keep pushing, and show up to the field everyday ready to do whatever I could for the team. At the end of the day, I think the injury made me appreciate my health and ability to play baseball more that I ever have.”
With Brad Miller struggling defensively in the field, Coach Leggett inserted Stolz into the lineup for the final four games of the season and Stolz responded. Over that stretch, Stolz went 2-for-4 in each of the games including his first homer of the season as well as making several dazzling defensive plays. Looking back, Stolz had great memories from that stretch of the season.
“I was so thankful that I was given the opportunity to play shortstop, especially against a team like Florida State in such a pivotal series for our team. The energy on our team and around the stadium was at its best. I do not think that were was a better atmosphere in the country than there was that weekend at Doug Kingsmore. I just went out there every day trying to make the best of the time I had out on the field. I was happy to be out there and contribute three big wins in a row. Baseball is a funny game; you never know when it will come around to you, and when it will be your time to make something big happen for your team. That is why you always have to be hungry to play and on the edge of your seat at all times.”
Omaha and Rosenblatt Stadium also had a major impact on Stolz. “Every team in the nation wants to make it to Omaha and that is what everybody talks about all year – Omaha. It is awesome to play at such a big venue against the best teams in the nation with every single game on ESPN. But once you get there, all you want to do is win the whole thing. When it comes down to it, you cannot be satisfied to just be there – you want to win a championship. At the end of the day, we were very fortunate to make if for Rosenblatt’s final season and we are working very hard to open the new stadium this year.”
Like many of his teammates, Stolz also took the summer off from competitive baseball. Instead of going home to Atlanta for the summer, he remained in Clemson and helped work Coach Leggett’s baseball camps. “I decided to take the summer off in order to give my back some rest from the day-to-day grind. I worked Coach Leggett’s camp for three weeks and had the opportunity to coach and share my baseball knowledge with my own team of 10-12 year old kids. It was a great learning experience for me and I am glad I had the opportunity to work with so many kids that aspire to be a Clemson Tiger baseball player.”
With fall ball ending just a few weeks ago, Stolz feels good going into the 2011 season. “Fall ball went well for me. It is an opportunity to work on certain aspects of your game. Now that I am a junior, I know how everything works and that makes it easier to work with the coaches and help some of the younger guys out. As a team, we started to come together and create solid bonds with one another. After seeing guys improve, I am excited to see what all we can accomplish this season.”
As for his personal and team expectations for 2011, Stolz wants “to be better than last year…to work hard every single day and to be the last team standing at the end of the season. Most importantly, we want to have fun, be fun to watch, and just let people know who we are.”
With some many key players from 2010 back and some talented newcomers, Stolz and Tiger baseball fans have plenty to look forward to once the season finally rolls around in February.