As the 2014 season approaches, and although he was one of the Clemson baseball team’s leading offensive threats a season ago, junior catcher Garrett Boulware finds himself in daily competition for his position behind the plate.
But that’s only to be expected when a team has so much depth and talent at its disposal, and Boulware views the fact of freshman standout Chris Okey nipping at his heels as more motivating than unnerving.
“I see the positives,” said Boulware of his competition with Okey. “He’s good, and he requires me to play at the top level. I cannot slack-off, because if I do, he’s not. It pushes us to become better baseball players, and it’s comforting to know that if you’re not in the game, you’ve got a kid back there who’s just as good as you are.
"He’s a very good catcher, and a very good baseball player. It’s exciting to have that, even if it keeps you a little on-edge. It’ll be fun.”
Armed with two solid receivers who can both wield the bat, and considering the wear and tear associated with the position, Coach Jack Leggett doesn’t see his decision on a starter as an either-or, or winner-take-all dilemma.
“Behind the plate, Garrett and Chris are two really good quality catchers,” said Leggett. “Garrett’s arm is getting better, and offensively they both swing the bat very well. So one of them will be catching for us, and the other one will probably be DH-ing for us, or at least in the beginning.
“They’re both very competitive, and they’re both great leaders for us, and they’ve both got the personality. We’ll figure out who our top guy is before it’s all over, but right now we could play either one of them and I’d feel really good about it, and the other guy could still be helping us offensively. We’ve got to keep those guys healthy because they’re both valuable parts of our team.”
Boulware – who’s a product of T.L. Hanna High in nearby Anderson, SC, and whose brother, Ben, was a freshman linebacker on Clemson’s football team this past season – became the Tigers’ starting catcher last year, and is currently on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List. As a sophomore he was an offensive catalyst for the Tigers, as he hit .308 and led the team in homers (8), RBIs (45), and slugging percentage (.476).
He also had 12 doubles and a triple, and as one of the team’s top returning power hitters, he commented on Doug Kingsmore Stadium’s reconfiguration and the fact that home plate has been moved up ten feet.
“It gives you a little more confidence to know that you don’t have to try to hit the ball as hard as you can, and maybe won’t pull balls that’ll just fly out of here,” he said. “It’s not going to be like Georgia Tech where the ball is just going to pop up and shoots out, but hopefully you’ll just know that you don’t have to swing as hard. You can focus more on your bat than try to hit a 400 bomb every time you go up to the plate.”
With so many experienced players returning for the Tigers this season, Boulware is anticipating a more mature offense that can execute at a higher level when the situation demands.
“We could be a really good team this year, if we just do what we know how to do,” he said. “None of us who are here have experienced anything past the regional, really, so we feel like we could do something pretty crazy this year. We just can’t screw around with midweek games, and you’ve got to grab the games that you can win, and you’ve got win in the conference.”
Behind the plate, and as he’s become more familiar with individual pitchers, Boulware says that he has a better grasp of shared wavelengths and what to call.
“I think you get a better feel,” he said. “Especially when they shake you, and you think, ‘okay, he wants to throw a particular pitch.’ You know what they predominately do in certain situations, and you just have a feel for what their ball’s going to do when they throw it. It’s much better communication.
“It’s awesome to be on the same page, and not have to sit there and stare at each other, and try to figure out what he’s thinking. We both have a good idea of what the other’s thinking, and it makes things go much more smoothly.”