By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
The dimensions at Doug Kingsmore Stadium might look and feel a bit different in 2014, an intentional part of enhancing the experience for the Clemson baseball team.
During the offseason, the entire field was stripped and resurfaced to maximize drainage—especially in the outfield—and help the ballpark function more fairly to batters. Home plate was moved about ten feet inward toward the outfield fence, making the park more hitter-friendly.
For pitchers, the change shrinks the margin for error. For most position players, the opposite is true.
For catchers like Garrett Boulware, however, the relationship can be tricky.
Boulware was a key part of Clemson’s offense a season ago, leading the team with eight home runs and 45 RBI. When he has the bat in his hands, the junior sees the benefit of having to hit the ball a shorter distance to reach the fences.
However, from behind the plate, Boulware has a far different task. His job is to keep every pitch in front of him, and when he fails, there is more area behind the backstop that he has to cover now.
Boulware simply refuses to dwell on the new difficulties, choosing instead to focus on the more favorable impacts of the changing dynamics on his game.
“I try to be positive and think more about the offensive thing,” he said. “They moved it up ten feet for me to hit, not really ten more feet for me to run back here.”
Either way, Boulware really does not care much about where the fence is. After a year under his belt as the cleanup hitter for the Tigers, the Anderson native is looking for ways to temper his approach in 2014.
“When you try to hit for the fences, you don’t ever reach them,” Boulware said. “I’m going to kind of keep the same approach and hope that the ball carries.”
Boulware enters his second season as the full-time catcher, but this season is different. He now has what the coaches feel is a more-than-capable backup—freshman Chris Okey—who can take over the reins, both at the plate and behind the dish, for a game here and there.
“When you have that 13th game in a row, you can have someone back there catching while you’re DHing,” Boulware said. “You don’t have to worry about this game falling apart because you know the kid has got the talent to catch and lead this team.”
Boulware is a competitor who is constantly seeking to improve. He established himself as a solid defensive catcher in 2013, but he says the coaching staff has taken a ton of time this offseason working with him on the finer points of defense, especially given the aforementioned increase in space between the plate and the backstop.
“We just practice more on blocking,” he said. “We emphasize blocking a lot more because you don’t want it to get back there.”
The competitor in Boulware is not easily satisfied, so it comes as no surprise that he feels last season was not a successful one for Clemson. As a budding star and leader, he is putting much of the burden on his own shoulders to help usher in an era of achievement for his team.
“I’m not going to be satisfied with a 40-win season ending in a regional,” Boulware said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to get us past that to Omaha.”
On Opening Day, Boulware will look out from behind the plate and see many familiar sights. Everywhere on the field, players return. The outfield fence looks the same, albeit a tad closer.
One thing he will not see is the backstop. He hopes he never will.