Two-sport athletes at the collegiate level aren’t that common in the first place, though it might be argued that D.J. Reader puts more strain than most on the seams of that concept.
And almost literally, since Reader – a freshman defensive tackle on Clemson’s football team – is currently throwing his 6’3, 335-pound physique around the baseball diamond.
Actually, as Reader clarified, producing a uniform that fits was less trouble than finding spikes, which usually stop at size-14.
In any case, Reader – who’s listed on the Tigers’ roster as a right-handed pitcher/infielder - isn’t exactly a baseball novice, as he played both sports in high school (Grimsley) in Greensboro, NC. He does, however, admit to being rusty, since an injury limited his baseball output to just seven games during his senior year.
Considering that time away from the game, Reader self-deprecatingly, though good-naturedly, said that his most gratifying Clemson baseball moment to date, was just putting the bat on the ball.
“I was impressed the first day that I actually hit the ball,” grinned Reader. “That’s probably one of the most impressive things I’ve done. But it was really difficult. You’re out here with kids who are college pitchers. I probably hadn’t seen over 85 (MPH) since my junior year, because I played only seven games my senior year. It was a big adjustment, and it was really tough to make.
“Trying to keep everything good on your swing, it’s definitely difficult. I’m having a problem right now, moving my head a head a lot and keeping my eye on the ball. It’s difficult to get back into, because you’re out there free-swinging sometimes. I got better (Sunday), so, hopefully, I’ll keep getting better.”
According to Coach Jack Leggett, Reader has picked up the pace with the bat a little more each time out. Queried as to what role he thought Reader might play for the team, Leggett, likewise, resorted to humor.
“D.J.’s going to play defensive line for us,” he quipped. “No, D.J.’s a strong kid, and a tremendously coachable kid. We just haven’t seen him enough yet to really tell what he’s capable of. He’s going to pitch an inning or two today for us in our scrimmage, and so I’ll get a look there.
“I kind of got excited about him offensively, the last couple of days. For a big young man he’s very loose. But he hasn’t played baseball in a long period of time, and got behind in the summer and fall. But he picks things up quickly, and he’s got some snap in his hands, and he is very strong, as you know. Being 300-plus pounds, it doesn’t seem to bother his flexibility. He’s got some looseness in his hands as a hitter, which you want to have. So we’re going to watch him really closely the next couple of weeks to see where he goes with it.
“He’s getting better, and he makes quick adjustments,” Leggett continued. “A couple of days ago, we had the breaking ball machine out here, and he had trouble making contact with it. Then the next day he made a little better contact, and then yesterday (Sunday), a lot better contact. So he’s one of those guys who seems to have a good aptitude for learning, and is a tremendously coachable young man.”
Whatever Reader’s potential, Leggett – a former two-sport college athlete himself - is maintaining a wait-and-see attitude.
“D.J.’s a great kid, and the guys like having him around,” said Leggett. “So we’ll just see where it takes us. But I don’t want to put expectations too high and feel like we’re going to fill the stands because we’ve got a football/baseball player out here.
“These other kids have been working extremely hard, but we’re going to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do, and then make some decisions about whether he has a future in baseball here, or doesn’t. But right now we have a tremendously open mind about it.”
If things don’t work out baseball-wise, Reader always has his day-job. As a true freshman in football, he was an impact player. Appearing in all 13 games, he recorded 40 tackles while establishing himself as a regular in the defensive line rotation. So far, football coach Dabo Swinney hasn’t weighed-in on Reader’s dual-sport ambitions.
“Coach Swinney hasn’t really said anything yet,” said Reader, “but if he wants something, he’ll voice it, so I’m just waiting to hear from him.”