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Tigers Were On Omaha’s Doorstep In 1999 At College Station

June 6, 2000

by Brett Sowell

Brett Sowell is the online marketing manager for ClemsonTigers.com and a former Assistant Sports Information Director at Clemson. In 1996, as a graduate assistant in sports information, he traveled with Clemson to the College World Series. Over the next few days he will share some of his experiences from that exciting trip.

1996 College World Series Memories

I know I said I would write about the 1996 CWS, but this first story did not take place in 1996. In fact it took place last season. It illustrates how quickly a team’s dreams and aspirations can be taken away from them. But most importantly to me, it shows how an athlete can handle a delicate situation with class.

When a college game is in its final minutes, it is time for a representative from the school’s sports information office to make his or her way down to the field. For those of you who are familiar with Clemson SID Tim Bourret, you will notice he is always on or near the field with five minutes to go at Clemson football games.

The reason the SID makes this trip is to grab players and coaches for post game interviews with the media. Sometimes interviews on TV take place right on the field as soon as the final buzzer sounds or the last out is made. So it is important that the SID is nearby.

I either hated or loved this walk down to the field when I was an SID. If you are winning you love it, if you are losing you hate it. I can’t think of many things that are worse than asking an 18-21 year old to face the media after a tough loss. It is just the nature of the business.

In 1999, I made the walk in College Station, Texas. The Tigers were three outs away from the College World Series. Clemson was the home team in the contest even though the game was at Texas A&M, so the Aggies were batting in the top of the ninth, trailing 4-3.

Closer Chris Heck was on the mound for the Tigers. As I walked I was stunned to think that the next stop for this club would be Omaha. Clemson opened the NCAA Tournament with a 23-5 loss to SW Missouri State, but bounced back in the Fayetteville Regional to advance to the Super Regional.

In the first game at Texas A&M, the Aggies put a Lone Star State whipping to the Tigers winning by the score of 20-3. But as Clemson had done all season, Jack Leggett’s team bounced back with a 10-3 win in the second game of the series.

Now it was Sunday and we were three outs away. Memories of 1996 in Omaha were dancing in my head.

Texas A&M’s Olsen Field has a small lower deck and a decent sized upper deck. The press box is in the upper deck. So I went down the steps of the upper deck at the beginning of the ninth to the main concourse and then down another flight of steps to the field level on the third base side.

When I turned the corner to go stand by the third base line fence is when it happened. I couldn’t even see the infield from where I was at that point. But I heard it and that was enough. It sounded like a cannon just went off and the crowd of over 7,500 Aggie faithful began to roar. I picked up the ball in mid-flight and it in fact was a bomb. It came off the bat of Steve Scarborough and it was a home run, the first Heck had given up all season.

From there I couldn’t bare to watch. I stood close enough to the field to see Heck deliver his pitches, but far enough away that I could not see the Aggie batters taking their cuts. And then it happened again. Boom! Another deep fly ball over the left field wall and the dream is almost over.

When Patrick Boyd struck out in the bottom of the ninth to end the game the dream was over for the Tigers. No Omaha trip.

Luckily in 2000, Clemson closed the deal and there will be orange Tiger Paws in Omaha again.

But the point of this story isn’t the fact that Clemson lost the game in 1999 and did not make the CWS. It is what transpired after the game that I will remember most.

The irony of that final inning of the 1999 season was, without Chris Heck none of us would have even been in College Station in the first place.

Heck missed the first half of the season recovering from a torn labrum. When he joined the team, Clemson went on a 10-game winning streak in one-run games. Heck had a win or save in nine of those 10 victories.

The day before the ninth inning collapse, he had thrown 71 pitches in earning the win over the Aggies on Saturday to improve his season’s record to 6-0.

As the Aggies celebrated, Heck and the other Tigers sat in the dugout in disbelief. At NCAA events, a team has 10-minutes to cool down before facing the media. I was waiting until the last possible moment to approach Chris about heading off to the media tent.

Finally it was time to talk with him. I hesitantly approached him. He had near tears in his eyes and I hated life at that moment, but he made my job a lot easier.

As I started to say, “I hate to ask you to do this,” he stopped me before I could finish. He said, “no, I’ll go, I want to go.”

I will never forget that day and I will always appreciate Chris for handling that situation with class.

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