Big man in the dugout: Clemson defensive lineman D.J. Reader making pitch to play baseball

Clemson’s D.J. Reader has a 90 mph fastball.

D.J. Reader doesn’t look like a baseball player.

The Clemson freshman is large, actually extra large, at 6-3 and 335 pounds. He can barely fit into his size 15 cleats, the largest pair of baseball shoes in the Tigers’ clubhouse.

Reader is on a football scholarship and played a key role in Clemson’s defensive line rotation last fall. But he’s trying to earn a spot on baseball coach Jack Leggett’s roster before the Tigers’ season opener against William & Mary on Friday. Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney is OK with two-sport athletes as long as they play a significant role in their non-football venture, as quarterback Kyle Parker did on the Clemson baseball team from 2008-10.

The lure of playing baseball is in part why Reader chose to attend Clemson instead of Maryland. The right-handed pitcher has a 90 mph fastball, and as his size suggests, he has the potential to be a power hitter.

Reader has not fully dedicated himself to baseball since his junior year at Grimsley High (Greensboro, N.C.). Baseball does not offer full scholarships, so it was football that was his focus his senior year in high school. And while the Clemson baseball team was working on hitting, fielding and pitching during fall practice, Reader was completely committed to football.

But the raw tools he possesses are intriguing, particularly for a baseball team that lost its only impact hitter in Richie Shaffer and returns only John McGibbon and JUCO Shane Kennedy as legitimate power threats.

“D.J. is a strong kid,” Leggett said. “We haven’t seen enough of him yet. I kind of got excited about him the last couple of days. For a big man he’s very loose.

“But he hasn’t played baseball for awhile. He has some snap in his hands and he’s very strong as you know. Being 300-plus pounds doesn’t seem to bother his flexibility.”

Leggett said Reader is showing progress every day, but will it be enough to get a spot on the final roster next week?

“He makes quick adjustments,” Leggett said. “A couple of days ago we had the breaking ball machine out there and he had trouble making contact with it. The next day he got a little better contact, the next day a lot better contact. He’s one of those guys that seems to have good aptitude for learning.”

Even if Reader can make the adjustments relatively quickly, will he physically be able to succeed at both football and baseball.

The mechanics of hitting and playing quarterback are similar in that they use the same muscle groups, which is why Parker was able to make a seamless transition between the sports.

For Reader, the functional strength required to play defensive tackle is much different than in baseball.

“In baseball you’re trying to keep muscles loose,” Reader said. “You get stiffer in football.”

Leggett won’t say which way he’s leaning on Reader’s chances of making the team.

“We’ll see where it goes,” Leggett said. “We have to make some decisions about whether he has a future in baseball here or if he doesn’t, but right now we have a tremendously open mind about it.”

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