USC Gives First Glimpse of New Stadium

South Carolina's new baseball stadium hosted its first event Wednesday afternoon when members of the media toured the new facility. The stadium is far from complete, but with the dugouts, outfield wall, and sloped areas where seating will be, it is not hard to imagine what the finished product will look like. Wednesday, the bases were even laid out amidst the piles of dirt and moving equipment.

The new stadium does not yet have a name, as the naming rights to the stadium, field, and perhaps other areas, will be sold. According to Athletics Department policy, the Naming rights will go to the individual or corporation that donates at least 50% of construction costs. The cost of actual construction is $24.7 million, with the total cost coming in at $35.6 million. The stadium is projected to come in under budget, and, after years of delays, on schedule.

It is estimated that at least one-third of construction has been completed. The plan is to begin work on the field May 15, and begin sod installation on July 1. That will allow enough time for the grass to take root and make the field ready for use on September 1, when fall practice begins for the baseball team. Both Athletics Director Eric Hyman and baseball coach Ray Tanner spoke about how the delays, site changes, and architectural conflicts were unavoidable, and they are pleased with how things have turned out.

"When it's all said and done, I think it's going to be worth the wait," said Hyman, noting that the short term delays were acceptable if it meant getting things right in the long-term. "This is something that has implications 30-40 years down the road."

"I understood each time that there was a setback or a delay," Tanner said. "I was involved in the meetings, so I was able to understand. I also understood that if we're going to build a fabulous facility, it is going to take time. If you're going to take shortcuts, it's not going to turn out the way you want it. I'm ecstatic about where we are right now."

The new stadium will have the same dimensions as Sarge Frye Field: 325 feet down the foul lines and 390 feet to center. However, the outfield will look nothing like the current outfield. The bullpens will be behind the outfield wall, and instead of looking out at Williams-Brice Stadium, the field faces downtown Columbia. Above the right field wall will be a grass berm where fans can sit. In left field, there will be a dining area, as well as an area where temporary bleachers for up to 1,000 fans. Above the bleachers will be the biggest change. A state of the art scoreboard with a widescreen video portion will tower 86 feet above the field. It is all part of what has been called the facilities "arms race," and Tanner feels like the new stadium will put the Gamecocks in a position to compete with anyone in the nation.

"We've taken steps here to make sure that our fans and our student athletes are in the same position as everybody else," said Tanner. "Eric Hyman's vision about facilities is second to none. We've got to recruit the best and brightest to be in a position where we can compete for championships. This kind of facility will enable us to do that."

Freshman centerfielder Whit Merrifield, who said he visits the site "every other week," toured the stadium Wednesday, and said his favorite feature was the centerfield skyline. He also agreed that the new stadium will be a tremendous recruiting tool.

"The first thing I'll do if I host a recruit is take him to this field," Merrifield said. "It should bring in a lot of highly talented recruits."

If there was any possible negative from touring the stadium, it is parking. Athletics Department officials all insist there will be plenty of parking, noting that there will be 1,500 parking spaces at the stadium, with another 1,000 spaces nearby. However, there will be 5,400 chair-back seats in the stadium, with room for more than 8,000 fans. A quick look around the stadium did not uncover much additional room for parking.

Tanner has worked tirelessly to improve Carolina's baseball facilities, and while the stadium could not have been built without Hyman's efforts, it is not a stretch to call the new building Tanner's baby. A 12-foot tall granite boulder outside the outfield wall has already been dubbed "Tanner Rock" by the media (though the rock will likely be removed later on), and Tanner said he frequently sits in his car and eats lunch above the right field wall. After last weekend's sweep at LSU, Tanner even found solace with the new stadium.

"When we landed on Sunday night, I didn't know what I was going to do with my life for the next several minutes," he said. "So I came here at about 11:15. I said we've got to crank it up again, and I came out here for some new energy."

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