New Bosh, Same Old Tar Heels

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- As you looked beyond left-center field at North Carolina's newly-renovated Boshamer Stadium on Friday, it was hard to miss the light-blue banner that hung from the seventh floor railing at Ehringhaus Dormitory. Scrawled in white hand-written letters, the sign simply read: "Welcome Home."

It's rare that a Friday afternoon in February presents traffic tie-ups along Ridge Road in the South end of North Carolina's campus, but on this day as the Tar Heels unveiled its $25.6 million renovation of Boshamer Stadium, cars crawled and fans scurried around outside the gates to see the Tar Heels' return to Chapel Hill.

Approximately 2,800 members of the Tar Heel faithful were in attendance to witness top-ranked North Carolina start the 2009 season with full intentions of earning a fourth-straight appearance in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

"It's the best opening day crowd, certainly, that we've had here," UNC head coach Mike Fox told reporters during his postgame press conference. "And our students coming out – our players, they notice that. They know who's there. They look up in the stands a lot more than I do… We hope the new stadium will help with that. That was the point in building it. If you build it, they'll come. Hopefully, we've got to keep doing our part on the field, but we want our fans to keep coming back."

And just as the Tar Heels closed down the former version of this stadium with a 9-4 victory over South Carolina in the 2007 Super Regionals, they opened this new edition with a 13-3 win over VMI. Those victories should come as no surprise; after all, this program has notched a nationally-leading 165 marks in the win column over the past three seasons.

Fox has been adamant since the ground-breaking ceremony in October of 2007 that this new facility will not impact his squad's performance on the diamond. The 2,450-square foot clubhouse, 6,200-square foot climate-controlled practice facility and 35 flat screen televisions will provide plenty of amenities for these and future Tar Heels, but those luxuries can only do so much in terms of winning and losing.

The 11th-year UNC head coach told his players in January that the new digs were "not going to help us win one game. It's what you do between those white lines, and those white lines are exactly the same in this new park as where they were last year."

But even Fox took time to appreciate the years of hard work that built Bryson Field at Boshamer Stadium.

"I tried to take it all in [Thursday] night," said Fox, who helped the operations employees finish last-minute odds and ends into the early-morning hours on Friday. "We were here late, but I just tried to soak it all in and relish just being in a new stadium. It's pretty neat."

Somewhat surprisingly, the Tar Heels aren't falling all over themselves about their new accommodations, although if you know Mike Fox, you know where the players developed that mindset.

"The field is incredible, just like it was over at Cary, so that hasn't been an adjustment," junior shortstop Ryan Graepel said. "But the new warning track is a little bit different down the baselines, where it's not the dirt warning track… It hasn't been too much of an adjustment so far. It's just really nice to get back on campus and have the students here to help support us."

Alex White, whose first pitch at 3:06 p.m. caught the right edge of the plate for a season-opening strike, echoed his teammate's sentiments, while also describing the relief of having a locker room to retire to following pregame warm-ups.

At Cary's USA Baseball National Training Complex, locker rooms are a figment of the imagination, an oasis in a baseball player's mind. Having to sit in the dugout during cold March afternoons for upwards of 90 minutes before a game's first pitch occurred with regularity last season.

The Tar Heels are finally home. Instead of boarding a bus every day to travel the 30 minutes to Cary, the players can leave their rooms at Avery Dorm and leisurely stroll the 25 feet to the new facility.

"Being able to walk to the field is incredible," Graepel said.

On Friday, the Tar Heels were far from perfect against a VMI squad coming off a 29-26 record in '08. The Keydets scored three runs on 13 hits against arguably the nation's top pitching staff, but in the end, North Carolina's overall talent was just too oppressive.

And for the first time in a lengthy number of years, Boshamer Stadium is equally as riveting as the baseball team that's playing within its walls.

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