By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Without any confirmation, there is one aspect of the Clemson baseball team that is widely accepted by both insiders and casual fans.
Sure, there are eight returning starters in the field and five pitchers with starting experience back in the fold. But there is one whose proper place in the whole scheme of things on Opening Day at Doug Kingsmore Stadium seems a certainty.
Daniel Gossett will take the baseball and throw out the first pitch of the 2014 baseball season on February 14. Even he is sure of it—almost.
“I’d like to think so,” he said before adding, “You don’t want to count your chickens.”
Clichés aside, Gossett is the unquestioned leader of a pitching staff that will add talented young arms to a wealth of returning experience for the upcoming season. This is his second offseason preparing to be the bona fide ace of the Clemson baseball program, and the coaching staff feels his presence provides a calming effect for the rest of the team because they know what he is capable of doing.
“When you have a legit Friday night guy, it gives you a really good chance to win the weekend series,” assistant head coach Bradley LeCroy said. “You know that he’s going to go out and match everybody else’s best.”
There are a handful of players coming back who started games last season, and four of them are looking to Gossett for guidance. The newcomers and redshirted pitchers from last season will go to him for advice and watch him work in an effort to replicate his production.
Gossett led Clemson in innings pitched (98.1), strikeouts (91), and wins (10) in 2013. Seven of those wins came in conference play, a stat LeCroy sees as the product of perhaps Gossett’s defining attribute.
“He doesn’t worry about the weather, the atmosphere, or anything like that,” LeCroy said. “He just wants that ball and he’s going to compete against that guy in the batter’s box.”
Gossett cannot make team success happen on his own. In order to meet his stated goal of winning a national title, the rest of the staff will need to be at its best as well. The junior from Lyman accepts responsibility as the tone-setter of the crew.
The role works for Gossett because he is the embodiment of Leggett’s preferred pitcher, the kind of bulldog that takes the hill in Omaha with a lot on the line.
“He gets the ball and goes,” LeCroy said. “He throws strikes with all three, four pitches he has. If you turn your head, Goose has probably already thrown a pitch, which is good.”
Taking the baseball on Opening Day can be a burden. The emotion can be overwhelming. But for Gossett, no moment is too massive. No stage is too big. No spotlight is too bright.
Instead of getting caught up in the moment, he embraces a youthful desire to play the game he loves.
“It’s a rush,” he said. “I feel like a kid.”
A kid may take the hill against Eastern Michigan, but a man will lead the Clemson pitching staff to its final destination. Somehow, Daniel Gossett is both.