CLEMSON — The baseball careened off his aluminum bat and Seth Beer began jogging in the direction of first base, though a few seconds later Clemson’s freshman right fielder would make a return trip to the batter’s box after his moon shot sailed well over the wrong side of the right-field foul pole.
The long and loud strike counted for no statistics, but it spoke volumes about Beer’s capabilities not just as the future of Clemson’s baseball program, but an appreciable portion of the Tigers’ present-day threats at the plate.
Why? That swing came on a 3-0 count. Very few college hitters — or professional sluggers — get the green light on 3-0 pitch. Beer, all 6-2, 195 pounds and 19 years of him, does.
“We tell our guys, if you swing on 3-0, you better rattle it off the wall. You can’t miss it,” head coach Monte Lee said Saturday after that game, in which Clemson defeated Maine 9-4. “That’s the kind of hitter he is. He can shrink the strike zone like that, 3-0, and look for one pitch in one spot and absolutely hammer it.
“This guy’s going to be special. He’s going to play the game of baseball for a long time.”
Beer actually began his college career 0-for-5 before lacing a two-run, two-out opposite-field single in the third inning Saturday. Beer should be a senior in high school this spring, but he enrolled at Clemson early as one of the top recruits in the nation from last year.
Beer put a charge into his first college home run Sunday, a grand slam in Clemson’s 19-2 victory to claim the series. Beer leads the Tigers (2-1) with six RBIs through three games.
Of his first hit in a Clemson uniform, coming after two long fly-ball outs, Beer said, “I knew if I stayed within myself, at some point it was going to happen. It was a cool experience to look up at my family, all the people who have gotten me here, and just smile and say, ‘I can do this.’”
Even on Friday, when Beer went 0-for-4 in the No. 6 spot in the lineup, his at-bat approach impressed Lee enough to be moved up in the order, right behind cleanup hitter and first-team All-American Chris Okey.
“He’s a great guy and an even greater player,” Beer said of Okey. “I was watching him on TV all the time last year. To be hitting behind a guy like that is just incredible and a humbling experience.”
Beer had one “oops” moment in Saturday’s game, though, learning the hard way Doug Kingsmore Stadium’s warning track is an inclined slope. He lost his footing as he attempted to field a fly ball, allowing a run to score.
“We had snipers in the outfield,” said the pitcher at the time, senior Clate Schmidt, adding a laugh. “It happens.”
Clemson’s lowly preseason projection of finishing fifth in the seven-team ACC Atlantic Division, per a poll of league coaches, is the fault of unproven pitchers.
The Tigers got off to a nice start to this 2016 season, recording a collective 3.00 ERA and issuing just eight walks against 30 strikeouts in 27 innings of work. “All the position players are loving it,” outfielder Reed Rohlman said. “That’s all we can ask for, is to pitch to contact, and they’re getting more strikeouts than we expected. We think they can do this all year.”
Lee’s predecessor of 22 seasons, Jack Leggett, was around the ballpark this weekend, albeit under awkward circumstances.
Leggett’s alma mater is Maine, hence the Black Bears’ appearance this past weekend in Clemson. The 2016 schedule was crafted by Leggett before his firing in June. Leggett spent time in Maine’s radio booth Saturday but did not visit the Clemson radio booth. He also spoke to the Maine players on Thursday, according to a Maine official.
However, Leggett and a companion were seated next to Clemson’s dugout, and Leggett personally congratulated Lee Saturday upon earning his first win with the Tigers.
“He’s a classy guy,” Lee said. “He does everything the right way and he’s extremely professional. That’s why he’s so respected in the baseball world.”
Leggett took Clemson to six College World Series appearances and compiled a 955-480-1 record. He is not coaching this season.