CLEMSON – The frustrated right fielder couldn’t stop himself from breaking character, cracking a smile Wednesday when the starting pitcher pulled a prank right out of middle school.
Steven Duggar, offering far more congenial remarks to the media than he’s used to giving all too often this spring, found himself on the receiving end of a surprise wet willy from that day’s starting pitcher, Clate Schmidt.
Who could blame Duggar or Schmidt for enjoying the shenanigans, rare as they’ve been? Clemson had just topped No. 19 College of Charleston 6-3, had given head coach Jack Leggett his 240th career win over a ranked opponent – a bright moment for a coach whose days might or might not be numbered in his No. 7 white uniform.
Anyway, it all began when Duggar was told of No. 240, a random stat not known by the Tigers’ junior captain.
“Oh, wow. Congrats to him,” Duggar said. “Yeah, I mean, no better coach to play for. We come out and play –”
And then Schmidt snuck from behind and jabbed his moistened index finger into Duggar’s right ear.
“That’s my move, get outta here,” Duggar retorted, as the few reporters around him chuckled. As Schmidt went about his way, Duggar continued, “That’s why you come to Clemson, to play for a Hall of Fame coach like him.”
The follow-up question: is the locker room still loose, as good clubhouses are wont to be from Little League to the Boston Red Sox? Or have those moments become too few and far between in this accursed and possibly transitional spring of 2015 for the Clemson baseball program?
“We’re trying, man,” Duggar said. “It’s definitely a whole lot easier to do that after a win. But that’s when we’re at our best. I think when we go out there and press, you see negative results. I think tonight, we came out fresh, relaxed. That was good for us.”
Four days later, the Tigers said so long to Doug Kingsmore Stadium for the spring with a loss to Georgia Southern. The Tigers fell to a finalized mark of 16-14 at home this spring – tying 1973’s 8-7 record for the worst home record in the ballpark’s 46-year history.
There’s this, too: the Doug’s average recorded attendance this year was 4,250 fans per game, its lowest clip in a decade and a 12 percent dropoff from two seasons ago.
Nine straight years with a top-10 national attendance ranking will likely become 10 in a row; Clemson currently ranks ninth nationally and isn’t in real danger of falling out of the top 10. But the fans have spoken.
Tonight, Clemson plays its third and final game of the year at Fluor Field in Greenville in a game started by Schmidt. If Leggett is not retained by athletic director Dan Radakovich this offseason, it ends an era for No. 7 as far as leading Clemson into games in the state of South Carolina.
Not that Leggett’s worried about that right now, or at least that’s what he’s saying publicly. Twenty-four hours before Schmidt doused Duggar with a wet willy, Leggett was left out to dry after his team’s 17-9 loss at Wofford, perhaps Clemson’s worst defeat of the year. Asked by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal about his Clemson future, Leggett only submitted, “I’m worried about tomorrow.”
As always, Clemson could get on a roll late in the season – its preference would be not this weekend at Florida State, but the following week at the ACC Tournament to punch its own ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“If we play a complete game from top to bottom, then we’re pretty dangerous,” Duggar said. “It’s just trying to find that consistency night in and night out.”
As always, consistency has evaded the 27-25 Tigers, which is why the end is nigh – maybe in more ways than one.