CLEMSON — The way Tyler Krieger spoke, it was almost like the nightmare in Nashville happened yesterday and not more than half a year ago.
A certain edge in Krieger’s voice, as Clemson’s junior infielder granted the first interview of the 2015 baseball season, set the tone for the Tigers whose hearts are set on righting the wrongs of past shortcomings, both last season and the three before it.
“We’re always motivated to do better. Any time you lose, I’m going to be frustrated,” Krieger said Friday, the day of Clemson’s first practice this spring. “I want to win every game I play. Learning from all the losses last year is going be big for us. Our team chemistry is unbelievable and I’m really excited about what we have going forward.”
Part of Clemson’s troubles during a wayward 36-25 year was on defense — the Tigers committed 89 errors and produced a .962 fielding percentage, tied for the program’s worst mark in 17 years.
Krieger was charged with a team-high 19 errors, losing his shortstop position during the season to then-freshman Eli White. With that, Krieger offered a self-assessment more brutal than the normal clichés spouted by college athletes.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you guys: I didn’t play good defense last year,” Krieger said. “I take pride in my defense. There’s a lot to learn from failure, and I expect to have a good year defensively.”
Krieger was hard on himself for his mitt, but his bat did the job last year. The second-team all-ACC selection led Clemson with a .338 batting average (fifth-best in the ACC,) 49 runs scored and 18 doubles, and his 19 stolen bases were second-best on the squad behind outfielder Steven Duggar.
He did it with a sprained right shoulder suffered during the spring, which was fixed with offseason surgery on Aug. 1. Head coach Jack Leggett hasn’t committed to Krieger automatically taking back his spot as the centerpiece of Clemson’s defense.
“If his arm’s not quite ready there, probably at shortstop we would play Eli White, then at second base we’d have to find someone,” Leggett said. “We’ve got an exciting freshman, Chase Pinder, who can play second base and left field. He was a factor offensively for us in the fall, so we’ve got to find him a place to keep him busy.”
Hence the pressure Krieger’s putting on himself not just to perform better, but return healthy by No. 24-ranked Clemson’s Feb. 13 opener vs. West Virginia at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
“There have been times I’ve wanted to get ahead of myself and people hold me back. Because that’s who I am and that’s what I want to do,” said the Johns Creek, Ga., product. “If I’m ready, then I’ll be ready. But that’s out of my control. I’ve done everything I can at this point.”
The idea of settling for second base, or waiting until the weather warms to ease his way into the 2015 season, is unsettling.
“My goal, my dream has been to play shortstop at whatever level,” Krieger said. “This injury’s taught me a lot about how much I miss the game. It’s taught me a lot about how much I love my teammates. It’s taught me a lot about overcoming adversity. I think once I get through it, I’m going to come back better from it. It’s taught me lessons that I don’t think anything I’ve gone through in my life has taught me.
“It’s awesome for me to put the pants on and come out here with my teammates because I missed it.”