On the heels of a 35-win season that included a runner-up result in the ultra-tough California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) and a slew of team offensive records, the UCSD Baseball team is off to a flying start in 2007. The Tritons are 8-4 and hitting .342 as a team heading into this weekend’s CCAA opener against Cal Poly Pomona. In the middle of the offensive fireworks is junior designated hitter Scott Clement. After pounding 15 home runs, driving in 56 and posting a .349 batting average, Clement was an obvious first team All-CCAA selection last spring. “Scott’s always been an outstanding talent and it’s been exciting and rewarding to watch him mature in our program,” says Head Coach Dan O’Brien. “As he continues to mature, there’s no telling how good a player he can be.” Hitting .390 with three dingers and 15 RBIs already this season, Clement took time to talk about the game and what’s ahead for the Tritons.
Q—What were your feelings after finishing second in the CCAA regular season, finishing third in the CCAA Tournament and then being left out of the NCAA Playoffs in 2006?
CLEMENT—Well the truth is, we played very well during the beginning and end of the conference season with a few lapses in the middle. Our record was solid, but not what it should have been. I knew that it would be a stretch for us to get in without winning the tournament. But when we got the news that we were definitely not going, my first thought was immediately, “next year”, and next year is now.
Q—How does last year’s scenario play into the team’s outlook and approach in 2007?
CLEMENT—We are not just playing to make a regional tournament, we are playing to become national champs. We have the talent in the field, on the mound, and at the plate to be the best team in the nation. When every player on the team plays to his full potential, we are going to be tough to beat.
Q—From your perspective, what are the strengths of this year’s UCSD team? What areas are key in terms of being a challenger in the CCAA?
CLEMENT—This team has the most powerful and explosive offense of any team I have ever played for. Every starter has to ability to hit the ball out of the ball park which is a step up even from last year when we set the school record for homeruns in a season (61). There is not a single weakness in the lineup from one through nine. The area that is going to be key for us to win a CCAA championship is having our pitching staff perform as well as it is capable of. If that does happen the way that I believe it will, we are going to be a scary team to play.
Q—How would you analyze the 2007 CCAA race? How does the conference stack up from top-to-bottom and where does UCSD fit?
CLEMENT—I believe that it’s between us and Chico State for an outright CCAA regular season and post season winner. We have similar programs in terms of talent and discipline and I believe that we are capable of stepping our game up when we need to. Otherwise, I believe there are a lot of really good teams remaining—L.A., Dominguez, San Bernardino, Stanislaus or Sonoma—that are certainly capable if we don’t play our best.
Q—You were primarily a DH during your first season at UCSD but have also played first base, third base and catcher. Which is your favorite position, why?
CLEMENT—My favorite position is catcher without a doubt. I have only been playing behind the dish since my junior year in high school, but just feel so comfortable back there. Behind the dish you can see the entire field, and feel every one of your teammates’ eyes on you, looking for guidance and leadership. That is a role I have tried to play on every team I’ve ever been a part of, and have had some very good success with teams I have played for in the past.
Q—What is the toughest thing about being a DH?
CLEMENT—When you are a DH, you have only one job to do and that is hit. When you don’t hit though, you feel like you are not helping the team in any way at all. So when you don’t get a hit in your first couple at bats, you feel like you are hurting the club and it becomes very difficult to stay within yourself, relax, and just think about you next opportunity to get your job done.
Q—You hit 15 home runs last season and have three so far in 2007. Where do you generate your power?
CLEMENT—I get all of my power from my lower half and the path of my swing. The angle that my barrel comes into the ball works really well for elevating pitches and generating a lot of backspin on the ball which is what causes a ball to take off as a homerun rather than a line drive. As far as my legs, having strong legs provides a lot of leverage and good drive in a swing. And when you get every pound of a big lower half into a ball, it is going to go a long long way.
Q—This past summer, you had the opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League. What was that like and did you come back a better player?
CLEMENT—Playing in the Cape was a lot of fun. The environment was just so exciting and easy to play in. Every game we played the entire town showed up to give their support. And as a hint to other UCSD students, we play a lot better when we get more fans.
As far as coming back a better player, yes, I think I did. The level of competition was very high and the pressure of performing every game very high. Every team was playing for a championship. Basically, the pressure reminds me of an extended UCSD season with more eyes watching.
Q—Who are some players on the current UCSD roster that you think might surprise some people as major contributors before the season is over?
CLEMENT—This year I think two younger players people need to watch are Kirby St. John and Vance Albitz. Kirby is a freshman pitcher who throws like a senior veteran. He throws a lot of strikes, he competes, and he really is not scared on the mound. He brings a huge amount of talent to the club and a presence that I would have never expected from a freshman. Vance is our starting shortstop. If you just looked at him walking around campus, he wouldn’t look like much (since he’s only 5’ 6’’ and weighs 150 pounds), but when you watch him play it is something else. When I do the laundry, the No. 10 jersey is always covered in dirt and grass stains. He plays like every game is the seventh game of the World Series. And for a guy his size he has a heart big enough for the entire program. He has no quit in him, and has enough talent to go as far as he wants.
Q—You and teammate David Morehead played against each other in high school when your La Costa Canyon team defeated his Rancho Bernardo squad for the CIF Championship. What do you remember about that confrontation?
CLEMENT—It wasn’t really a confrontation between me and Dave because I didn’t even know him at that point. So I don’t remember a whole lot of individual instances with him throughout the game. What I do remember is Joey Burke coming in to score the game winning run in the bottom of the eighth and rushing back to hug my parents and then diving on top of the giant dog pile. I can tell you, though, that I did throw out Dave trying to steal second base
Q—What major league baseball players do you admire? Why?
CLEMENT—Albert Pujols and Pedro Martinez are the two big leaguers I respect the most. I love Pujols because he is just so consistent and always has the same facial expression and body language whether he’s 4-for-4 or 0-for-5. The greatest thing about him is whether he’s hitless or on fire one night, he is the guy you want at the plate in the ninth inning with the game on the line.
I like Pedro Martinez because he is literally not scared of anyone. When he is on the mound, he doesn’t act like he weighs only 170 pounds, he acts like the biggest meanest guy in the majors, and it is that attitude that makes him so good, even when he’s only 75%.
Q—What do you like most about playing for Coach Dan O’Brien?
CLEMENT—OB doesn’t let me slack off. Coach pushes me to get better at something every day. Some days he tries to improve my swing some days maybe my catching, others might be the mental game, but what he preaches is that we get something out of every day at the yard.
I think the most influential thing that OB has told us is that baseball is the greatest privilege we have. It is not a right and none of us should ever take it for granted. We should all know that each one of us can lose our ability any day, and that we have to cherish every moment that we have. Pretty much, OB is the most important professor I have at this school, because he teaches me more than just swing mechanics, he teaches me how to better my life and the lives of those around me too.
Q—You’re a psychology major. What do you eventually hope to do with your degree?
CLEMENT—I hope that I can take my psych degree to the major leagues and use it to help me stay mentally healthy day-in and day-out. But whether that works or not, I would love to be a high school and eventually a college baseball coach—be able to help my players see baseball and life from a more mentally healthy perspective. When your outlook on sports is the way that it should be and you treat every game the way it is meant to be, you get more out of a day at the field than anywhere else. I want to help guys realize that the way that I have.