CLEMSON — As an eight-year-old — a virtual gosling — Daniel Gossett would join a gaggle of kids at Clemson baseball games chasing foul balls and dreaming of one day being on the field.
A year ago, it came true. On opening day, he pitched one inning in relief against UAB, and the gosling was officially a “Goose,” all arms and legs with a 90-mph fastball and a slider.
This afternoon, he becomes the ace in the skein, taking the ball to start Clemson’s season in the first of three games with William & Mary. The significance and magnitude of the assignment do not escape him.
“It’s a huge honor, honestly,” said Gossett, whose most cherished memory before last season was Tyler Colvin’s walk-off grand slam to beat Oral Roberts in the 2006 NCAA Super Regional.
“I’m just trying not to think too deeply into it. I know if I get inside my own head, that’s where I become my own worst enemy.”
Gossett works at that part of the game. Listed at 6-feet and 170 pounds, he looks taller, which probably accounts for the whip in his right arm. On a good team at Byrnes High in 2011, he was one of the seven best players in South Carolina. Boston drafted him in the 16th round, but he signed with Clemson and decided he didn’t want to miss fulfilling his dream.
Working out of the bullpen as a freshman, he made five appearances before drawing a midweek start against Western Carolina. The subsequent results were occasionally impressive — seven innings of electric stuff against Elon and Winthrop — but when locating his fastball became a chore, Gossett struggled.
Though he finished 6-3 with a 4.32 earned-run average in 10 starts and nine relief appearances, Gossett limited opponents to a .221 batting average (seventh best in the ACC) with 88 strikeouts in 77 innings (eighth in the ACC).
“Last year, I remember a couple days before opening day I was nervous, nervous,” he said. “I learned you can’t give college hitters too much credit. I know that sounds weird or arrogant but, as a pitcher, you can’t try and be too perfect.
“You’ve got your stuff,” he said. “You need to go up there and use it.”
After seeing new teammate Jake Long’s changeup, Gossett decided he wanted one, too.
“I knew that was one thing that was lacking from my game,” he said. “First day out, he’s dicing Division I hitters with a nasty changeup, so I decided I have to have a changeup.”
His confidence in the pitch could be huge if the slider isn’t biting or he’s struggling with the heat.
“It’s good to know when you’ve got your stuff you can get people out,” he said, “but it’s even better to know that when you might have your off day, you know you can still get outs.”
In signing a deep, highly regarded class of freshmen and a couple key transfers, coach Jack Leggett has built a team for speed, defense and pitching. Gossett could be the lynchpin.
“If I can just concentrate and relax and do my thing out there, I feel like it should be a good game,” he said.