CLEMSON — There weren’t many initial surprises at the conclusion of fall practice as Jack Leggett gathered his Clemson baseball players and named team co-captains for the 2013 season.
Seniors Thomas Brittle and Scott Firth and junior Jon McGibbon stepped forward. Teammates loudly approved.
“And there’s another guy we’re going to have as co-captain,” the head coach said. “He has been working hard since he came here.”
Dramatic pause among the Tiger paws.
The roar was unanimous for a mere bullpen catcher, a team leader who isn’t actually on the roster. Co-captain status shows how much the Tigers think of Curry, a senior from the tiny town of Nichols. It’s also a tribute to college baseball’s bullpen catchers, guys that work as hard as anyone at practice but are not eligible to participate in games.
But Curry is with the Clemson team at home and on the road, including this week’s trip to the ACC tournament in Durham, N.C., where No. 5 seed Clemson plays tonight against No. 4 N.C. State.
He still gets choked up recalling Leggett’s ultimate tribute.
“I mean, what an honor,” Curry said. “People would ask me, ‘Man, why do you go out there working in those cages at night? You could be doing something else.’ ” I kept thinking it would pay off if I just kept doing what’s right. But even if I wasn’t named co-captain, I’ve received enough respect from my pitching staff.”
Many major conference college baseball teams have bullpen catchers (as do major league teams). Ben Marosites and Brent Worsham serve at South Carolina. Mac Jordan, a freshman from Georgetown, is following in Curry’s footsteps at Clemson.
“You have to have them,” Leggett said. “You can’t beat your catchers up. It’s a good thing.”
The 5-9, 198-pound Curry didn’t grow up hoping to become a bullpen catcher. He played football and baseball at Green Sea-Floyds High School, but was focused on his packaging science major at Clemson. Conversations with baseball strength and conditioning coach Dennis Love in a campus weight room got Curry interested.
“It turned into a role that I take very seriously,” Curry said. “I loved it right away. I liked baseball when I played in high school, but I love Clemson baseball.”
Early into the job, Curry huddled with pitching coach Dan Pepicelli.
“I started by learning the fundamentals of his pitching plan, and the things that he wanted from his pitchers,” Curry said. “I started watching pitchers. I wanted to make sure I could fulfill my full character and my full duties.”
Clemson’s young pitching staff has the No. 18-ranked Tigers in good position to host an NCAA tournament regional next week. The team ERA is 2.97, the lowest since 1992.
“Over the years, I’ve realized this is not just a bullpen job and this is not just catching guys. This is about these guys and their future,” Curry said. “So I had to tell myself, ‘The only way you can push these guys to get better is to push yourself.’ ”
“Absolutely nothing,” Curry said.
Just a few weeks ago.
“An 88 mph slider to the right knee from (sophomore right-hander) Daniel Gossett,” Curry said.
Curry didn’t miss any bullpen sessions.
“It takes an extremely special kind of guy to stay in the bullpen, hang out in the bullpen and do all the bullpens that need to be done with our pitchers and have a good attitude and be a leader,” Leggett said. “He’s just a tremendous person.”
The son of a military veteran, Curry was born in Germany. His only sibling, older brother Ricky Jr., is a communications major at Coastal Carolina.
Curry enjoyed spending his high school years in Nichols, a modest Marion County town of fewer than 500 residents between Mullins and the North Carolina border. He also learned the power of productivity.
“What you learn there in seeing some of the less fortunate people around you and the situations they’re in is that you want to take full advantage of every opportunity ever thrown your way,” Curry said.
He plans to use his packaging science skills in the Marines.
“Logistical operations,” Curry said. “Sustainability and durability. Different ways to package and transport things like MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and weapons of mass destruction. And you try to keep costs down as well.”
Until then, Curry will remain active in Omega Psi Phi, a fraternity founded in 1911 and the first black Greek-lettered frat at Clemson (1974). He dutifully carries Omega Psi Phi’s “See It Through” motto to the baseball field.
“I want to make sure everyone — players and coaches — understand that baseball is tough,” Curry said. “And it can get lonely out here August through June. But if we can see it through together, there’s a big dream on the other side.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.