Gamecock baseball has seen its share of glorious moments. Who could forget the call from Mike Morgan in 2002 when the Gamecocks advanced to Omaha? Like a bolt of lightning on a scorching hot South Carolina June afternoon – BOOM! The defending National Champion Miami Hurricanes were sent home for the season as the Gamecocks came from behind in their final at bat. They closed out The Sarge that season with a trip to Omaha.
As recently as March, the Gamecocks persevered through the disappointment of losing top recruits by ascending to the top spot in the nation. This past weekend marked the third time this young season that a 2007 #1 ranked team graced The Sarge. First it was Clemson, who left with a metaphorical black eye. Next up was Vanderbilt who was #1 temporarily. The third team though, they'll be here a while. While some call The Sarge "cramped" and others call it "dingy," the latest #1 calls it "Home."
(Editor's Note: Article written before the Vanderbilt series. Gamecocks are now #5)
Complaints about the condition of Sarge Frye Field have whipped up hefty political divides over the years. Teased with rumors, seemingly fictitious plans and premature reports, Gamecock baseball fans watched while the Capital City Bombers wedged their way into the argument. We saw the University point fingers at the city and vice-versa. But throughout a multitude of changes one thing remained unchanged: Ray Tanner was building an empire worthy of a castle.
That castle seemed to take shape, on paper at least, in 2006. Plans were released, land was purchased, financial plans revealed and then, just like that day in 2002, lightning struck out of nowhere – BOOM! The unimproved earth was taken advantage of by Mother Nature and nothing else. Inevitably, the questions began to seep out like old stories from the two abandoned buildings still resting on the 29 acre tract. "When is this going to start?" "How is it going to be completed in time?" "Why is no one talking about it?"
Enter the Demolition Crew
Those questions, like the same Southern thunderstorm disappeared as fast as it rolled in. Machines began to tackle those buildings. Excavation is set to begin after the demolition, which should be over by the middle of April.
Cautiously optimistic, Columbia residents took a sigh of relief.
Coach Tanner also looks forward to a stadium he helped design. "Doctor Sorenson went out of his way to make sure I was included. Dr. McGee before, and now Eric Hyman have kept me in the loop, which they didn't have to. I appreciated that."
His influence came with the fans and his players in mind, "My influence on this whole project was really to keep it as close to The Sarge as possible as far as the seating, dimensions. It'll certainly be a different magnitude, but I didn't want our fans to come in and say ‘We're so far from the field now.'"
More than the dimensions, the fans will probably enjoy the amenities the most. Coach Tanner listed some of the bigger ones that came to mind, "We'll have a little bit of roof on the grand stand. We'll have more leg room. We'll have better concessions."
More amenities or attractions come in the form of an illuminated Victory Tower in front of the stadium that will list great achievements in USC sports history. As if this weren't enough, there's more. Suites and all, the stadium should seat 8,000 comfortably. Not included in the 8,000 are those relaxing in the Plaza beyond centerfield.
Jeff Davis, the associate AD in charge of facilities, adds to the amenities by describing the scoreboard, "We don't have a contract signed on it yet, but the plans are in place. It's going to be nice. It's a combination scoreboard/video board. It's really nice."
The players benefit from the amenities as well. They will have a weight room at the stadium – a rare, if not unheard of trait in NCAA Division I baseball. The beauty of this structure, one that Coach Tanner expects to be "in the top three or four nationally," will also help in the recruiting wars. "It'll have an impact in the national recruiting wars. We can probably do better nationally than we've done in the past because of great facilities. Certainly players are going to take a lot of pride in having one of the nicest places around."
Similar dimensions not only help ease the comfort level in the stands, but in the field too. Outfielders will not have to readjust to deeper gaps or shorter fences. Justin Smoak and James Darnell will not have to adapt to a different foul territory. Comfort within dimensions historically plays a large part in team performance. Tanner agreed, "There will definitely be more of a comfort zone there than most people think."
Still though, there are questions. Can this be done in time for the 2008 season? Is ten and a half months really enough time to construct a 6,800 seat baseball stadium?
Like all of the fans, Coach Tanner voiced his concern here, "As it is, a lot of these guys were recruited thinking the new stadium would be finished by now and that's been a little tough, but it takes time, ya' know? Rome wasn't built in a day."
Exactly right. Rome was not built in a day. The concern is February 2008 – roughly 300 days remain for Columbia's own little Roman Arena to be built. Coach Tanner is aware of the possibilities, "I think it's gonna' be touch and go. Is it possible? Very much so. It's very possible. The stars got to line up though. They have a lot of work to do. We can't afford a tremendous weather situation or anything like that, but it is possible."
Giving Way to HOK Sport
History says it can be done, but there is no more room for political maneuvering, financial deliberation or construction delays. HOK Sports, the most respected public assembly facility builder in the world, will need to flex some muscle when they start construction. Stadiums of equal size have been built faster. Per HOK's portfolio, examples of the speed in which construction can take place are everywhere. Stadiums grossly larger than the one planned for Columbia were built effectively and efficiently enough to quell any concerns.
SAFECO FIELD in Seattle, Washington seats 47,000 and has a retractable dome. It was completed in 27 months.
Camden Yards in Baltimore, a product of HOK Sports, was built in 33 months with initial demolition included. Seating in excess of 48,000 fans flush with ample parking, the project sprawls across an 85 acre parcel of land.
In other words, the builders of the Gamecocks' new stadium are probably giggling at the concerns bandied about our fine city.
With demolition now underway, the only question remaining is about this year, not next.
How will the final season at "The Sarge" wind up? Will it be another heap of celebrating Gamecocks about to fly to Omaha? Only time will tell.
Some time between the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 the pictures above won't be sketches anymore, they'll be real pictures.