Friday was an exciting day for Clemson baseball as Monte Lee and the 2021 version of the Clemson Tigers started spring practice at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.
The Tigers, who were 14-3 in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic hit, bring back the majority of last year’s team, while also welcoming in a top 16 recruiting class according to DI Baseball.
“Since we came back in January, we have been very blessed in that we started classes on January 6 in Clemson, which has given us a lot of opportunities to be able to get out on the field and to get a lot of really good baseball work in with our guys,” Lee said before the start of practice on Friday. “I feel like we are in great shape. The pitching staff looks outstanding. There were a lot of competitive workouts up to this point.”
Lee said the Tigers had a short intrasquad scrimmage on Tuesday where they had four hours they could use based on NCAA rules. They used those four hours to play seven innings.
“We are already, in my opinion, ahead of the game,” he said. “I feel like we are probably farther along right now than we have been in the past. So, it is just an exciting day to get started up and we look forward to seeing the guys face off against each other today and begin the season.”
Like with every sport, the number one concern for Lee and his coaches is the health of their players and making sure they are staying safe and doing what is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while also having a healthy mental approach to the kind of environment where testing and social distancing are going to be important to a team’s success.
“The biggest challenge we will face this year, as baseball coaches, is managing our roster because of COVID,” Lee said.
Though COVID-19 hit last March, the college baseball season stopped. This spring will be the first time coaches and players will attempt to manage their way through a season.
“We did have to deal with the virus in the fall. I am sure every college baseball coach, especially that is in the position we are in at Clemson, where we test our guys, every guy on our roster, every single week, we have had already had to deal with COVID. We have already had to deal with the rules, the CDC guidelines, as far as the direct contact if you have a guy that test positive, he and his roommates are out.
“So, we have already had to deal with that and basically dealing with the day-by-day … How many guys do we have available? Who do we have out because of COVID and those kinds of things? Also, making the adjustments as you go through this process as to, these are the things we have to bring up to our guys and that our guys need to be aware of to keep them safe.”
The Clemson program made a lot of adjustments to its day in and day out operations in order to keep players safe. The Tigers did not use the player facility or the locker room until this week. The whole fall, the players would show up at the field in their practice attire, practice and they would leave.
“We did not feed them any meals post practice. We wore masks in the dugout, masks in the batting cages and constantly just trying to keep our guys safe as we possibly could, and we still had to deal with the virus,” Lee said. “So, we have a pretty good grasp of what we are dealing with. The biggest thing is trying to do everything we can as coaches to make sure our guys are doing the right things.
“A lot of that is just going to be their accountability off the field. These are college students. We know they want to spend time in groups. They want to gather. They want to socialize, but we simply cannot do those types of things this spring if we expect to be able to work with our full roster throughout the whole course of the spring. We know we are going to have some hiccups, but we are going to have to deal with it and do the very best we can.”