Monte Lee is set to make his return to Clemson.
After serving as Clemson’s head baseball coach for six seasons, Lee was dismissed last summer after the Tigers failed to make the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season. He is now one of Mark Kingston’s top assistants at South Carolina, and when the rival Gamecocks visit Doug Kingsmore Stadium on Friday to open up a three-game series, it will be Lee’s first trip back since being let go.
Seeing as he is now a member of the staff at Clemson’s biggest rival, Lee is unsure of the reception he might get.
“Who knows, right? I have no idea,” Lee said on Wednesday. “I’ve just always tried to live by a very simple principle. Treat people the way I would want to be treated. The people at Clemson were great to me. I’ve had many great relationships with a lot of people. If I get a chance to say hello to them while I’m up there, I’d love to.”
Whatever the response may be, good or bad, Lee said the focus should not be on him to begin with. His top priority will be helping to get the players in his dugout ready for what many consider college baseball’s greatest rivalry.
“Ultimately, it’s not going to be about me,” Lee said. “It’s going to be about our team and what I’m trying to do to help prepare our guys for a tough series. That’s my priority and focus.”
“Once the game starts, it comes to the competition part. It’s about their players versus our players, and it’s about the competition. It’s about the opportunity for both programs and both coaching staffs to be a part of the greatest rivalry in college baseball. It’s special. Every pitch of this rivalry weekend is special to the coaches and players, and it means a lot to the state of South Carolina. To be a part of it is a special thing.”
Lee isn’t the only member of last year’s Clemson program that is now with the Gamecocks. Players Jonathan French, Dylan Brewer and Ricky Williams all transferred to South Carolina over the offseason. Lee knows that emotions will be running high, but at the same time, not getting overly emotional will be key.
“We just need to be calm, cool and collected, just do everything we can to control our emotions,” he said. “I think that is the key. And that starts in batting practice, whatever our approach is going to be in that game. We’re going to make sure we gameplan in our practice routine and get a feel for that ballpark.”
“But we try to be as loose and as calm as we possibly can, because we know when the National Anthem starts and their starting pitcher goes out there, the emotions will rise a little bit. I think the key for us is don’t let the moment become too big.”
Clemson is set to host the Gamecocks at home on Friday at 6 p.m. Game two is scheduled for Saturday in Greenville at Fluor Field, with first pitch at 1 p.m. The series finale will take place in Columbia at Founders Park at 1p.m.
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