Note: The following appears in the May issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication's content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.
It is hard to ignore the lyrics of Jo Dee Messina’s debut single, “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” when it booms through the speakers of Doug Kingsmore Stadium every weekend as Patrick Cromwell steps into the batter’s box. For seniors Chris Williams and Cromwell, the decision to attend Clemson University came with a trek of over 2,000 miles and a significant change of scenery.
Williams was born and raised in Garden Grove, Calif., and attended Garden Grove High School, where he lettered four years in baseball and was the team MVP as a sophomore, junior and senior. Continuing his career as a catcher and infielder at Golden West College, Williams earned all-state honors, was named conference and team MVP and garnered attention from Clemson assistant coach Bradley LeCroy.
“I finished my freshman year of junior college and I wasn’t really looking for anything crazy. I knew I had a good year and I wanted to go to a four-year college, but I wasn’t expecting anything this big.
"They came to see me play and I did well. They liked me so I came to Clemson on an official visit. Two days later, I fell in love and signed to come here to play baseball."
Growing up just 20 minutes away from Williams in Costa Mesa, Calif., Patrick Cromwell attended Calvary Chapel High School before continuing on to attend Santa Ana College for two years. By the end of his sophomore season at Santa Ana College, Cromwell had been named an all-conference infielder and team MVP. It was not long before Cromwell too found himself in contact with LeCroy.
“I was getting a lot of interest and thought they were incredible schools with great baseball programs, but I had always wanted to go away from home for college and experience a school that had a football team or had a giant alumni network."
After receiving Cromwell’s initial email, LeCroy wasted no time in making plans to scout the lefthanded batter’s abilities on the field. Just a week after receiving his transcripts, LeCroy paid a visit to Cromwell on behalf of the Tigers, and when head coach Monte Lee offered him a spot on the team two weeks later, Cromwell had no doubt in his mind about what his answer would be.
“As soon as they offered, I said, ‘yeah! I’m in,’ but then I had to call my dad to ask him,” laughed Cromwell.
So what was it that made these two Southern Californians so eager to attend a university in the Southeast? While Cromwell did not need to visit in order to make his decision, Williams said it was his official visit to Clemson that sealed the deal, solidifying his decision to take the huge leap away from home.
“Weirdly enough, when I was on my visit, coach LeCroy was taking me around the whole campus and it seemed like he knew everyone and everyone was really nice and friendly. It confirmed the stereotype that people in the South are so much nicer. The whole campus was absolutely beautiful. It was nothing like the landscape back home in Orange County. It was something brand new to me that I wanted to experience, because growing up, I was in suburban Orange County neighborhoods my whole life and I knew I wanted to get away from home, and this was the perfect opportunity.”
Once enrolling at Clemson, however, both Williams and Cromwell found themselves in a new world academically, socially and geographically.
“The workload from school to baseball to training was new and I have had my fair share of struggles with academics because of it," admitted Williams. "It’s something you really have to make a priority. In junior college and in high school, it wasn’t necessarily easy, but it definitely wasn’t as hard to get good grades. Then, you come here and it’s a brand-new ballgame.
"Everything takes at least three times as much work. That was a struggle for me at first. Being away from my family was hard, too. Before I came to Clemson, the longest amount of time I had ever spent away from my family was around a week. And then I came here and I could only see my parents once of every four months."
Cromwell continued to address the time constraints of any player that may be transitioning from one school to another, whether it is from high school or a junior college.
“They aren’t really used to what it’s like at a four-year university, especially one that’s as well known as Clemson and has such good academics. For me, that was really tough. You really have to put an emphasis on academics. There are only a certain amount of hours in the day, and you have to make the most of them.”
This new set of challenges also came with opportunities to branch out. When Cromwell arrived at Clemson in the fall of 2016, a year after the arrival of Williams, the California duo quickly hit it off over their similar experiences.
“We became really good friends last year when Patrick came just because Patrick is an easy guy to get along with and he’s a lot of fun," explained Williams. "When I knew Patrick was coming to Clemson, I put an emphasis on making sure that he met everyone and made sure everyone knew him, because I had wanted to know someone like him when I first got here."
“There were guys that played at Chris’ junior college that I had grown up with and I had played with since I was eight years old," stated Cromwell. "That was how our relationship started, with us talking about people we know and hung out with. From there, we just clicked."
Williams and Cromwell quickly assimilated into their new roles as players, but after leaving parents and friends behind at home, they also found themselves a second family amongst their new teammates.
“It was definitely intimidating at first, but the older guys like Chris Okey, Eli White, Weston Wilson and Andrew Cox made it very easy, made me feel welcomed and made it feel like a family," said Williams.
The accepting nature of his teammates also came as a shock to Cromwell, who assumed it would take time to shake off the stigma of being from California.
“We all have one goal...we’re here to win. As soon as the team realizes that, everyone comes together and everyone has a good time with each other. The fellowship is incredible. I felt at home here no more than a couple of days after I stepped foot onto the field and started practicing with the guys.”
While Cromwell and Williams each confessed to missing the beach as well as the lack of seasons in California, neither would be opposed to spending a few more years in the Southeast. At the very least, they both plan on coming back every year to enjoy a game as Clemson alumni and reunite with former teammates.
“I have loved my experience in the Southeast," added Cromwell. "I had always been really intrigued by the Southeast because I thought it was so different from what I had grown up with, so for me to get this opportunity to come here, even if it only was for two years and live life in this southern state of mind was incredible."
When asked where he would want to move after graduating, Williams jokingly added, “Who says I’m leaving?”
Upon graduation, Williams and Cromwell will both be remembered for their legacy as great athletes, but also for the positive impact they have brought to the team as leaders.
“It’s great to be remembered as a great baseball player, but once our time here is done, it really doesn’t mean anything," said Cromwell. "The relationships that you form here as a person are much more important than being remembered as a baseball player."