CLEMSON — A heavy fog greets Monte Lee on his commute as he drives his school-issued Toyota Tacoma to work at 7 o’clock in the morning. The horizon is unclear as he crosses the Seneca River from his new home in Seneca to a months-old baseball facility next to Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Much is hazy for the Clemson baseball program, which has a dozen College World Series appearances, 2,709 victories (eighth-most in college baseball) and, conversely, five consecutive early exits from the NCAA postseason. Lee, hired away from the College of Charleston in June to cure the recent ills, makes no grandiose statements about how quickly he intends on taking the Tigers back to Omaha, Neb.
Those tasks can wait. In fact, they have for the first eight months of Lee’s business partnership with Clemson. That time, while imperative on the recruiting trail and in fall and preseason practice sessions, was just as critical for Monte, his wife Eryn, their four daughters Madie, Shelby, Blaire and Alexa, and two dogs.
“We got them up here acclimated to a new town, a new school, a new everything,” Monte said. “That side of it has been good. It still doesn’t feel like we’ve been able to take a breath because it’s been a whirlwind.”
Coaches move. That’s what they sign up for at the college and professional levels, and if anything, Lee has been remarkably fortunate never to have to leave his home state in search of greener pastures.
Lee, who graduated from the College of Charleston in 2000, began his coaching career in 2001 as an assistant at Spartanburg Methodist College. From there he went to South Carolina, where he was an assistant on the Gamecocks’ staff from 2003-08 before being lured back to his alma mater to become a head coach.
Because volatility is the nature of the business, Monte and Eryn never hid reality from their girls, even at young ages. Anytime a new job prospect might have required the Lees to move — say, the summer of 2014 when Arizona State nearly lured Lee away — a group talk took place on the couch to gauge their daughters’ interest.
So when Clemson fired Jack Leggett in June and immediately came after Lee, there occurred on a couch in Charleston another family meeting. The moment Lee received an offer letter from Clemson two weeks later, the ink bearing his signature had barely dried when Shelby and Blaire, both 16, and Alexa, 12, went to clean out their rooms.
“It was an adventure (to the girls),” Eryn recalls. “They honestly had their bags packed the next day.”
Monte moved into a condo immediately to begin work, while Eryn and their younger three daughters had options on when to time the move based on school. Madie, who turns 20 Monday, completes her coursework at Trident Technical College this spring.
The parents gave the kids the power of voice and opinion. Hustle up to Clemson? Or wait until after Christmas to allow time for proper house-hunting?
“They were like, nope. We don’t want to live apart. We want to all be together and we’re ready to go,” Eryn said. She and the girls would end up joining Monte and settling on a house sight-unseen in Seneca.
“We were able to get in there the first of August. The kids had about three days before they started school, and away we went.”
Monte and Eryn, married in 2011, each bringing two daughters from prior marriages to form their family of six. From Monte came Madie and Shelby. Eryn’s are Blaire, who is 15 days younger than Shelby, and Alexa.
Shelby and Blaire had some fun messing with their new Seneca High School classmates and teachers. They would each introduce themselves during roll call as having just moved from Charleston, and because they have different last names, it elicited some puzzled looks before they explained the situation.
“We have six out of our eight classes together, so I’m with (Blaire) pretty much all day,” Shelby said. “She’s one of my best friends, so it’s good to have her through a new school.”
“We get the twin question a lot,” Monte said.
The twins who aren’t twins share the same circle of friends, but they’re independent through their hobbies. Shelby is musically inclined — she plays the flute and sings — and is active in school clubs. Blaire is a varsity cheerleader, taking after her mother, a former College of Charleston dance coach.
“We’re very alike, but we’re very different,” Blaire said. “We tend to choose friends we both get along with, but we’re always together, so if one doesn’t really get along with the other, we’re very choosy.”
They’ve had each other to lean on through starting at a new school. Youngest sister Alexa, attending Seneca Middle School, leans on her social skills and athletic interests — soccer and football on the playground, bicycling around the neighborhood — to make friends.
“At first I was kind of scared because I didn’t want to move,” Alexa said. “But then I got excited to go. It was a totally new place.”
“Because their friendships were very strong (in Charleston),” Monte said, “they had come up through middle school and high school with the same group of friends, and then this happened.
“As excited as I was about the idea of being the next head coach at Clemson, they were excited about it as well, which makes it a lot easier for me.”
Madie took the news the hardest for two reasons. She was already set to finish at Trident Tech in the spring of 2016, and she grew up living at baseball diamonds wherever her dad was coaching, which will make this long-distance season a touch bittersweet.
“It’s going to be pretty weird. I’ve never been in a different city (than my dad) during baseball season,” Madie said. “He’s really looking forward to this season, and I’m super proud of him.
“I’ve never been in orange before. It’s always been some shade of red. So I’ve got to go shopping.”
If it sounds like the boy-girl ratio is a bit distorted in the Lee household, Monte did something about it.
“I got two dogs. Males. They’re both males,” Lee said with a grin.
Monte’s boys are the Odd Couple of pets: Prancer, a 12-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, and Charlie, a 3-year-old King Charles Spaniel. The older dog was named by Madie and Shelby as little girls, who loved how the puppy pranced around the living room.
Yorkies tend to gravitate toward one master, and though Prancer was a gift for the girls, he picked Monte, pairing the well-built, goateed baseball coach with the palm-sized pooch.
So when Eryn, Blaire and Alexa joined the gang, they gave Prancer a new pal.
“We wanted a dog of her own since Prancer only paid attention to me,” Monte said. “He’s more well-rounded, he likes everybody.”
Charlie is taller, leaner and much more hyper than Prancer.
“It’s like an old man and a teenager,” Eryn said.
Clemson’s version of the Brady Bunch is ready to roll into their first baseball season in the Upstate. The Lee family is scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitches Friday on Opening Day vs. Maine.
“I’m really enjoying it, actually. I’ve made some really great friends here, and the Clemson family’s been really welcoming,” Shelby said. “So we’ve had a really good transition from Charleston.”