CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Jack Leggett is proud of the respect he gets from baseball colleagues after 20 years as the Tigers coach. And he's not worried about the fans concerned that while their coach is among the country's best, he's fallen short in his own state.
Leggett begins his 21st season at Clemson on Friday, starting a three-game home series with Eastern Michigan. He's led one of the country's winningest programs the past two decades, reaching the College World Series six times in that span. This past January, he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and it's obvious that Leggett's words carry clout — he was one of the loudest voices in advancing the flat-seamed baseball, a change set for 2015 designed to increase offense.
"I think if you've been around long enough people listen to what you have to say," Leggett says. "They appreciate there may be some substance behind it."
But he's dealt with bitter disappointments in his own backyard from rival South Carolina which has risen to national prominence with College World Series victories in 2010 and 2011. The 2010 title came through the Tigers as Leggett's undefeated team was beaten twice on the game's biggest stage.
That left some Clemson fans ruefully watching the Gamecocks victory parades and wondering if that was down the road for the Tigers.
Leggett heard the criticism then and again the past two years when they lost NCAA regionals at South Carolina's home field.
"I don't think it's fair, but at the same time, they're entitled to their opinion," he said. "The fans I see and appreciate are the ones that are positive all the time and appreciate how hard these kids work."
Leggett, who'll turn 60 in March, was a gritty infielder at Maine and was team captain when the Black Bears reached the 1976 College World Series. Leggett doesn't appear to have gained an ounce since then, keeping trim with mountain hikes that have taken him to peaks in the Alps and throughout North America.
When it's time for baseball, it's hard to find anyone more determined to win. He still sprints into the team's pre-game huddle and out to his coaching box at third when the Tigers are up. A season-ending loss sends into what he calls his "post-season depression" for a couple of weeks.