Like many players before him who go through a leadership change, Caden Grice had the opportunity to seek his collegiate baseball fortunes elsewhere when Clemson University made a change to its coaching staff.
But that would be discounting several things about Grice, not the least of which is his devout love for everything orange and purple or the kind of person he is. Never did he give a thought to playing anywhere else but the school that’s 45 miles from his hometown of Greer, S.C.
In fact, not only did Grice not leave, but he doubled down on his commitment and became a true team leader for the staff of first-year head coach Erik Bakich, who in turn reinforced the commitment to make Grice one of the top two-way players in the country. For both, the commitment to excellence paid off beautifully.
Grice, who had been a two-way player for the Tigers as a freshman and sophomore, took his game to a whole new level, both on and off the field, as a junior and made Clemson one of the top teams in all of college baseball in 2023. And, in doing so, Grice earned the honor of winning the 2023 John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award.
“In talking with Caden and coach Bakich, it became crystal clear that there could be no better representative of the John Olerud Award than Caden Grice,” said George Watson, co-chair of the award. “Not only does his work on the field speak for itself, but so does his dedication to helping others, whether it’s a teammate who may be in a slump or reading to kids or visiting a local children’s hospital. The world could use a lot more people like Caden, and we are honored to name him the winner of the Olerud Award for 2023.”
The award is named for the former Washington State University standout who achieved success both as a first baseman and left-handed pitcher during the late 1980s and was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. The award will be presented by the College Baseball Foundation at a later date.
On the field, Grice put together a phenomenal season hitting in the middle of the lineup and serving as the mound ace for a team that finished 44-19 and 20-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, capturing the ACC Tournament championship along the way. He hit .307 with a team-high 18 home runs and 68 RBIs, and on the mound went 8-1 in 14 starts with a 3.35 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 78 innings.
“I think it was just more of taking the initiative of actually taking the next step into making it a full-time thing,” Grice said of his leap forward. “I think I was just a little bit hesitant on diving into both fully like I did this year in a starting role. But once I had some talks with our pitching coach, and he was really firm on it. I kind of took it into consideration, prayed about it, and I was like, ‘yeah, why not?’ I think once I took that next step, and just it was history from there.”
But to hear Bakich tell it, Grice had just as big an impact in the locker room and away from the field as he did on it.
“He is a good Christian kid who has just been raised right,” Bakich said. “Every time we had any type of a service opportunity, whether it was a visit to a children’s hospital or reading to kids in schools, he was always the first to volunteer. It’d be so easy for the superstar to not sign autographs and not want to do service-based activities, but he was always the first one, and he signed autographs longer than anyone else on our team. He’s just the true servant leader, and that’s where I’ve seen so much growth out of him and just him really thrive.
“And it wasn’t about the draft. You never would have known he was in his draft year. You would have thought he was just a guy that could have been a walk-on who was totally invested in every single guy on the team, that had a relationship with every guy on the team and turned out to be a glue guy. He just completely surpassed my expectations of what I thought the type of person and type of player that he would be just seeing the stat sheet from the year before. Seeing how much it mattered to him to make Clemson baseball relevant again, and just put the needs of the program ahead of his own. That’s what I will forever remember about him.”
Grice was one of the top players in the country in 2023, earing first-team All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and second-team honors as a pitcher from the ACC. He is only the third player in Clemson history to hit 10 or more homers and earn five or more victories in a season, joining Jarrod Schmidt (2001) and Kris Harvey (2005). His three grand-slam home runs in a single season are a Clemson record.
But in the storied history of Clemson baseball, there will be few who will be remembered as embracing the university and the baseball program as much as Grice, who hopes to find his name called in the June pro draft and find a way to stay in baseball in some capacity as long as he can.
“I just want people to see how passionate I was about this school, and that Clemson baseball will be a part of my heart forever,” Grice said. “I truly care about this place more than anywhere in the world. It’s changed me as a person and changed me as a ballplayer.”
For more information on the College Baseball Foundation’s John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award, visitwww.collegebaseballhall.org.