CLEMSON — When Clemson baseball coach Monte Lee looks at Dylan Brewer, he sees himself.
Lee, like Brewer, hails from a small South Carolina town, and he understands how scary it can be to go from that environment to major college baseball. That's why perhaps no one was prouder than Lee as Brewer carried the Tigers in their series win at N.C. State last weekend.
Brewer had four hits, three homers and 10 RBIs as Clemson won the first two of games of the three-game set April 2-4. He was named one of Collegiate Baseball's national players of the week.
"He's like a son to me," Lee said.
Lee is from Lugoff, an unincorporated community of about 8,200 people in Kershaw County. Brewer, a sophomore right fielder, is from Latta, a town of about 1,200 in Dillon County.
Brewer took an atypical path to Clemson. He played for Latta High School and represented nearby Florence County in American Legion ball. But unlike most of his Tigers teammates, he didn't grow up playing travel ball or attending showcases.
Most high school baseball stars have to be reminded they are no longer selling themselves when they get to college, Lee said, and that they are now part of a team. Not Brewer.
"He's a little bit of a throwback," Lee said. "He cheers for the pitcher when he's out there in right field, kind of like in Little League. He's got a lot of sandlot qualities."
Scouts have a way of finding talent, even in places like Latta. Soon Brewer had earned comparisons to Christian Yelich, the Miami Marlins' star outfielder. In the 2019 MLB Draft, Brewer was drafted in the 32nd round (956th overall pick) by the San Francisco Giants, but chose to attend Clemson in part because of his relationship with Lee.
On his official visit, as his family struggled to navigate the sprawling campus, Lee provided a helping hand.
"He was very good to my mom and (family), Brewer said. "He made Clemson feel like home. A home away from home."
Brewer's first year of college was an adjustment, and just not because of the dorms and the big academic buildings. The coaches put him through more advanced drills than he was accustomed to.
"Back home, we'd just soft toss and then go play a game," Brewer said.
Clemson hitters were instructed to swing a PVC pipe, Brewer said, stopping mid-swing to evaluate the placement of the barrel. At other times, they would swing bats that contained holders for tennis balls, and the flight of the tennis ball would indicate bat path effectiveness.
"Gosh, I told my coach back home, you go to Clemson, you're going to get better," Brewer said. "If you don't get better, that's on you."
As a freshman Brewer hit .245 with a homer and six RBIs before COVID-19 shut down the season in mid-March. He started off slow in 2021, flashing his power but sometimes struggling to put together complete at-bats.
His performance against the Wolfpack offered a peek at his potential. Brewer and freshman left-hander/first baseman Caden Grice are Clemson's two best pro prospects, Lee said.
Brewer misses Latta. He misses driving through the backroads, blasting songs by Scotty McCreery, a popular country music artist. But he's found a community at Clemson, and a more diverse taste in music, too. His teammates introduced him to pop megastar Shawn Mendes.
As Brewer looks to help the Tigers to a fourth straight series win April 9-11 against Virginia, he knows folks will be watching back home in Latta.
"When you're really good at something in Latta," Brewer said, "everyone knows who you are."