Tigers open practice amid talks of new bats, return to Omaha

by - Senior Writer -

Audio: Jack Leggett (MP3 Format)

Audio: Richie Shaffer (MP3 Format)

Audio: John Hinson (MP3 Format)

Audio: Brad Miller (MP3 Format)

CLEMSON – Jack Leggett’s Clemson baseball team held the first practice of the 2011 season Friday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, but there was something missing.

Instead of the usual ping of the bat that is heard around college and high school baseball, the sound was more of a thud as the Tigers swung the new bats mandated by the NCAA. The newer models are supposed to be more similar to wooden bats than their predecessors, limiting the trampoline effect the bat has on the ball.

Following a 1998 season that saw Division I baseball set records for average runs scored (14.2) and home runs hit (2.2) per game, plus a 21-14 championship final between Arizona St. and Southern Cal, the NCAA implemented the "Ball Exit Speed Ratio" to dampen the power of the metal bats.

This season, they took it a step further by replacing the BESR with the Batted Ball Coefficient of Resolution (BBCOR), which brings bats even closer to duplicating the properties of wood.

Clemson has been ranked in the Top Five nationally by several preseason polls, and Clemson shortstop Brad Miller said he thinks the rules changes regarding the composition of the bats will favor a Clemson team that looks to better last season’s (45-25 record) third place finish in Omaha.

“I think a lot of that preseason stuff is based off of what we accomplished last year,” he said Friday. “This is a new team, and we are out to prove ourselves. Regardless of all that stuff that happened last year, this is a whole new team and we look to be No. 1 in the final ranking.

“As for the bats, everybody is kind of assuming that offense will be down because of how they want to deaden the bats. But I think it will be the same game, and this is a team that will play to its strengths. We are very athletic, and I will take our athletic guys over anybody. We might not be as big of a gorilla ball team, but we have athletes. We have guys that can run and control the bat.”

The Tigers return several key offensive performers, including Miller (.357, 8 HR, 49 RBI), third baseman John Hinson (.351, 17, 75) and outfielder Jeff Schaus (.320, 15, 87).

Hinson was taking the wrapper off of one of the new bats while he prepared for practice, and he said that a wood bat might actually be better than the current model. However, he said he doesn’t want to concentrate on the bats but on getting back the College World Series.

“We have a lot of guys back that experienced that last season, and we are motivated,” Hinson said. “Especially with South Carolina eventually winning it, and being our rival, we are more motivated to get back there and take care of business. Now we know what it takes to get there, and I think that helps out tremendously.

“I feel like the talent is there on this team, but the team chemistry is off the charts. This is a close-knit group, and everybody loves to be down here working and pushing the other guys. We can talk about going back to the College World Series, but it’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to do it. We have been there, and we have seen it, and that experience will help us out.”

Sophomore first baseman Richie Shaffer said he doesn’t believe the new bats will have too much of an impact on Clemson’s lineup.

“I know the new bats are obviously the topic of conversation for everyone,” Shaffer said. “I know everyone is expecting a huge decline, but we hit real well with them this fall. I think if you hit the ball on the sweet spot with a short compact swing, whether it’s the new bats or wooden bats or the composite bats of the past, the ball is gonna go. I don’t think the game is going to change as much as people speculate.

“I don’t think you will see too much difference this year, but if you do see a sway in production I think it suits our team because we are so versatile. We can play small ball, and we have a lot of team speed. We have guys that can make contact. We can still put balls in the seats with these bats, and the depth of our lineup will be crucial to our success. We don’t want anything less than getting back to Omaha and competing for a National Championship.”

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