Erik Bakich wasn’t timid Tuesday when it came to a question about expectations in 2023.
The Clemson head baseball coach heads into his first season at the helm today at 4 p.m. against Binghamton with a crystal-clear plan for the Tigers.
“Personally, I think the College World Series is the standard for Clemson baseball,” Bakich said. “We shouldn’t deviate from that, even though we haven’t been since 2012. Clemson baseball is still Clemson baseball. It’s a blue blood.
“We’re working very hard to restore Clemson baseball to its rightful place on top of college baseball. So you have the long-term goal. We want to win the program’s first ever national championship.”
It remains to be seen, and there are 56 regular-season games to find out, if his first group can just get to an NCAA Regional. Making the tournament is something the Tigers haven’t accomplished since 2019, and they came up short of getting a win in the ACC tournament a year ago.
Monte Lee was fired shortly after, and Bakich left Michigan to rejoin a program he worked at as an assistant under Jack Leggett.
The Clemson legendary head coach is also back around the team. If there was ever a time to get the Tigers back on track, this feels like it’s it.
Bakich had just one losing campaign in 10 seasons with the Wolverines. He took a team that can’t even practice or play outside until April, which is a huge recruiting hindrance, to five NCAA Regionals.
The Wolverines made it all the way to the CWS championship series in 2019 when Bakich lost to another mentor and Leggett disciple in Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin.
This isn’t a situation where a new coach has never been to Omaha. Bakich knows how to lead his program there.
While the standard is clear, how he wants to accomplish it is based around narrowing down the Tigers’ focus, not heaping heavy expectations on his players.
“If we don’t (win a national title), we at least finish the season in Omaha, where we belong, and then you scale it all the way back down to just the power of of 1,” Bakich said. “One day. One game. One inning. One pitch. One meaning. One breath.
“One whatever, and just put your focus on that in the moment and just keep getting better because we’re going to need all those opportunities to grow and improve if we’re going to be an Omaha team at the end.”
Is it realistic to think the Tigers can do that in Year 1? After all, last year’s team was rife with pitching and hitting issues. Development became a concern. Bakich walked into a program that needed a stronger culture and more structure.
He’s instantly brought them that, but translating that to the field and victories is a different challenge. He doesn’t know yet how his players will handle the inevitable frustrations and adversity that comes with a game built around failure.
But Bakich and the coaching staff feel good about the talent. They see a group that has athleticism in the lineup and depth on the pitching staff.
Outsiders will want to discuss expectations all season. They’ll want to weigh Bakich’s first year after ever series, maybe after every game.
That’s just how sports society works. This team was picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division by the ACC coaches. D1baseball.com didn’t put the Tigers in their preseason field of 64.
That’s not something the Tigers are caught up in heading into the season. The new guy steering the ship has already sailed these waters.
“Nobody’s going to Omaha this month…we know where the destination is, but then we keep the target squarely in front of us,” Bakich said. “Whatever we’re doing right now is the most important thing we’re doing.”
Right now, that’s beating Binghamton in Game 1. That’s establishing something as a team.
That’s shaping the expectations on their terms, not letting the expectations shape Clemson.
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