CLEMSON, SC -- Talk to Clemson first baseman Mike Calitri and you immediately notice his thick New England accent. The Canton, Massachusetts native speaks with a Yankee twang that would seem more fitting on an episode of “Cheers” than on a baseball field in Clemson, South Carolina.
“The accent is big,” says the affable Calitri. “When I first got down here it was like a different world. I didn’t understand the people I was playing with and I’m sure they didn’t understand me. People would want me to talk all of the time! “Can you say this word, can you say that word?” It was just funny.”
While the language barrier has often been an obstacle, remaining patient has been perhaps the greatest difficulty for Calitri during his time in Clemson. After red-shirting in 1997, he found himself relegated to role-player status in 1998 and 1999, only occasionaly seeing action behind starters Jason Embler and Jason Harris.
“Coming from the Northeast, I didn’t see a lot of good pitching in high school. Some of the guys like Khalil (the Tigers’ third baseman and a Florida native) grew up on great pitching, but it’s not the same in the Northeast. During my first two years it was definitely an adjustment for me to figure out how to hit and hit well,” Calitri says.
Fast forward to the start of the 2000 season, when it seemed natural for Calitri to finally get the starting nod after Harris’ departure. Freshman Michael Johnson had other ideas, beating out Calitri at first base and forcing the more experienced junior to spend most of his time in the Tiger dugout. It was becoming painfully apparent to Calitri that he might not ever get a chance to start.
Everything changed on April 26, however, when Johnson broke bones in his right hand after being struck by a pitch against Western Carolina. Calitri stepped into the starting job at first base and hasn’t looked back since, batting .288 and belting six home runs.
“I never gave up hope for playing every day and I knew I would get my opportunity. I just happened to have to wait a little longer,” Calitri says.
“You work hard every day and you practice hard and that’s supposed to prepare you for the real thing. When I stepped in there I was an older guy on the team so it wasn’t a nerve thing for me. It was just something I knew I could do every day.”
Teammate Greene says that Calitri always had the ability to play, but it was just a matter of timing.
“He’s a good player and he’s just had the opportunity to show it,” Greene says.
“Even when he doesn’t play he’s always into the game, so when he finally got in there it was kind of a natural fit for him to be one of the more vocal players on the field. I think he had the ability to play last year and this year. It’s just that now he’s getting his opportunities at first.”
As for Calitri’s accent, it seems that his Southern exposure might be starting to take its toll on his New England dialect, with friends and family back home pointing out subtle changes when they speak with him.
“They say I have a little twang once and a while when I say something. Even when I talk to my family on the phone, even though I don’t get into the “y’alls” and all of that, they’ll say, “It sounds like you have a little twang there.” It just happens, I guess.”