Most times, it seems, great things are born from the most simplistic and humble beginnings. For the spectators that take in Clemson baseball games at Doug Kingsmore Stadium from center and right field, that's exactly how their traditions were created.
Looking toward center field from home plate, just to the right of the big green wall sits an object that is quickly becoming legendary, but is almost impossible to see due to the massive amount of students occupying the small area.
It's a 36-passenger mini bus that has been painted orange, purple and white. But what's unique about the bus is that on top of its roof sits a platform, which in turn holds a loveseat and couch. And that's where a mass group of roughly 20, comprised mostly of students, watch the game. Directly connected to the bus, but some four feet lower, are rows of scaffolding that can hold nearly 30 people.
The entire area is better known as the "Cheap Seats."
"Basically, all it is is a bunch of kids who want to have fun," said Frank Murphy, who along with David Topham and Bryan Griffiths originally purchased the bus three years ago for the bargain-basement price of $450.
Out in right field sits a bland, aluminum rectangle structure that stands well above the outfield fences, which gives a nice and open view to the entire field. People pay a rather nice amount to take in the game from these four so-called corporate boxes, but if you want to sit, you've got to bring your own chair.
|However, if you ever had the opportunity to sample the food grilled by Jon "Gump" Zimpleman, Donald "Truck" Hymel and Steve "Smoke Daddy" Coleman, you'd quickly understand why it is truly a place of luxury.|
And because of the food, which could match or top nearly every restaurant in the Clemson area, it has earned the name of "The Cajun Café."
"I don't think anybody envisioned this when we first started," Zimpleman said. "But the place is spectacular. With the view and with the food and with a cold adult beverage, you'd be a fool not to want to be out here."
Both places are different and cater to different types of fans, yet each has its own special qualities that make them a special location to behold a Tigers baseball game. Rest assured, there's nothing quite like them at any other college baseball venue in South Carolina, Georgia or North Carolina. It's probably safe to say that these are two of the more unique setups in all of college baseball.
Oddly enough, while the Cheap Seats are more of a cheap beer and boiled peanuts group, while the Cajun Café is a stuffed pork loin and cigar section, both come from very similar beginnings.
Back in January of 2003, Topham, Murphy and Griffiths saw an add in a classified section of a newspaper that stated a 36-passenger bus, which is nothing more than a scaled down version of a school bus, was for sale for $450. There even came a spare engine inside it for spare parts.
"We just kind of looked at each other and decided we had to have it," said Topham, a 23-year-old mechanical engineering major. "Once we had it, it took us about two minutes to decide that we wanted to put a deck on it and park it in right field to watch the baseball games."
But the bus was in a haggard state, which is why it went so cheap. The three put about $300 more into it just to spruce it up a bit. They got a buddy to help paint it to make it look like one of the CAT buses that drive around the campus taking students from place to place.
When they were done, only a couple of rows of seats remained inside the bus. Instead, a white plastic lawn chair and a ripped up blue couch sat in the back. The roof was painted orange and the hood painted white, where a big orange tiger paw sits. Also, a horn that blasts "Tiger Rag" was installed, as well as two presidential Clemson flags on the two front fenders and a 30-foot bamboo pole that stands on the top of the bus with a Clemson flag attached that gets waved each time the Tigers score.
|It's a 36-passenger mini bus that has been painted orange, purple and white. But what's unique about the bus is that on top of its roof sits a platform, which in turn holds a loveseat and couch.|
This year, the bus was moved to center field due to liability reasons with the university. But no worries, coupled with the scaffolding, the Cheap Seats is taking on legendary status.
"We had a really good time out there," said Murphy, 23. "But to be honest, I like it better out here. The view is better."
The bus did venture out for an excursion once, however. The boys decided that it would be a fun idea to take it to the Clemson-South Carolina game in Columbia for the infamous 63-17 thrashing of the Gamecocks in November of 2003.
Because there were some issues with the bus, they took the scenic route and it took nearly four hours to get there because they had to stop every 30 minutes or so and add another quart of oil to the engine. All told, it took eight hours to get there and back, 45 gallons of gas and 30 quarts of oil.
One of the students that has been with the bus from the very beginning is Garrett Edens, who is the designated heckler in the Cheap Seats. While making sure never to cross that fine line of taste, Edens, 23, lets each opposing team's center fielder know that he's in for an earful each and every inning.
Against Georgia Tech, Edens blistered center fielder Danny Payne until he finally acknowledged Edens with a sly grin. Anything to get inside the opposition's head to help out the Tigers is his cause.
"I've been working at it and trying to get more creative every year," said Edens. "I'm not trying to be mean or anything. I just want them to know that we're going to be here every game and that it's not going to be easy. They've got the baseball team and us to deal with."
Since nearly all the originals graduate this year, there's no set plan on what's going to happen to the bus at the end of the season. This is a decision that isn't being taken lightly.
"Six of the seven originals are graduating," Murphy said. "We haven't found anybody that we want to hand the keys over to. But we want to keep it here and let the tradition go on. We've started something pretty special and we don't want to see it come to an end. But we've got to make sure it's in good hands."
While the atmosphere in right field is a little more subdued, the people out there like to poke fun at the opposition's right fielder. Against those same Yellow Jackets, the right fielder Jeff Kindel made a rather nice catch near the outfield fence, which prompted a few folks the age of most grandfathers to say, "There goes your chances for a beer. No beer for you. We could have introduced you to some girls, but not now."
|Before the start of last season, the university and Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett, seeing how widely popular right field was becoming, decided to add corporate boxes out there.|
Before the start of last season, the university and Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett, seeing how widely popular right field was becoming, decided to add corporate boxes out there. It was a chance for the school and baseball program to make some decent money, as well as add to the unique atmosphere.
The grill, without question, is what makes this place special. Whether it's Hymel using his Cajun cooking background or Zimpleman cooking on the grill, the meals are truly something to behold and would garner a five-star rating for any food critic.
Case in point: One three-game series over the course of a weekend included 20 pounds of baby back ribs each night; a 10-pound Boston butt; cabbage gumbo; whole chicken wings; smoked sausage; a massive stuffed pork tenderloin that was stuffed with feta cheese, garlic and spinach; and hamburgers stuffed with smoked sausage and topped with Clemson blue cheese.
Then there was the weekend that they had crawfish flown in from Louisiana and steamed it for a roast. They later made etufe, a Cajun specialty dish, from the crawfish. It was so good in fact, that football coach Tommy Bowden even made an appearance.
Hymel would probably be considered the master chef, but Zimpleman can handle the grill as well.
"We're still trying to teach him things," Hymel said jokingly of Zimpleman. "But he's learning. He'll be pretty good one of these days."
But not to be missed even when eating is the baseball game. And to try and help ensure Clemson victories each night, a superstition/tradition was created. Every time the Tigers need to score runs, the group in right field sends out an orange plume of ralley smoke. The idea of the rally smoked was first started by Coleman, hence his nickname of Smoke Daddy.
"That's our signal to them that it's time for some runs," Zimpleman said. "The first few times we did it, they scored runs and got the win. And you know how superstitious baseball players and fans are, so we just kept doing it."
There are two ways they propel smoke into the air. One is by adding wood and to the huge grill. The other is handled by retired judge John Robinson, who is in charge of and the creator of the billows of orange smoke that routinely comes from there.
"I went on the Internet and found a dealer that had orange smoke bombs," Robinson said. "They used to be just 75 cents, and we did it after every game and almost every inning. But the raised the price up to $2, so we're more selective now."
Between the bus, the food, the smoke and the horn, the outfield at Clemson baseball games is unlike anything you'll find on college campuses in the Carolinas. Add to that the colorful personalities of the participants, and it's something that really is something special, be it the Cheap Seats or the Cajun Café.