Carol and Lina went down to the new Carolina baseball Stadium for the first time to see the "stadium that Ray prayed for." They wanted to think about the future after a disappointing 2008 campaign for the University of South Carolina baseball team. If eating lunch while watching the construction crews work gave Coach Ray Tanner some peace, it was good enough for them.
"I wonder if the wind will blow to left field like at ole' Sarge Frye Field?" said Carol, glancing down the left field line in the direction of the Congaree River, and the left field foul pole that will stand 325 feet from home plate.
"Probably, but the wind will blow in more, since they'll be hitting from the direction of what was the left field line at Sarge Frye Field, in the direction of the old USC bullpen, along the right field line," said Lina.
"Think we'll ever see anyone hit as many home runs as Justin Smoak?" ventured Carol, pointing toward the centerfield wall 390 feet from home plate.
"Or Hank Small, Trey Dyson, Yaron Peters – even Joe Datin?" said Lina.
"Joe Datin," repeated Carol. "Now that's a great answer to a trivia question."
They both laughed and munched on their sandwiches as thoughts of a 40-23 campaign that ended in an NCAA Regional and not at the College World Series flowed through their minds.
"It's hard to imagine that Smoak, and Havens, and Darnell will never play in a College World Series for USC," ventured Carol finally, after watching a construction worker weld something that sent sparks flying above him, then disappeared into the air.
"Could have used some long balls against N.C. State from Darnell, or Smoak, or anyone to help Havens. All three will be playing professional ball this summer," said Carol.
"I'd have taken a few hits from anyone," said Lina. "Looks like next season DeAngelo Mack will be playing next to that nice picnic area down the left field line with about 120 ‘Third Base Line Hecklers.'
"And Whit Merrifield will look good in center field with that huge scoreboard towering over him," continued Lina. "How far?" he wondered aloud.
"Eighty six feet above the field," said Carol. "Forty seven feet high and forty four feet wide, with a 16 by 28 foot high video board. Our Green Monster,"
"Nobody will hit one over that thing," said Lina. "But someone might hit the scoreboard with a Phil Disher type shot and break a few bulbs."
"Wonder how expensive those bulbs will be," asked Carol, working on his chips.
"Not as much as the naming rights for the stadium. Got a few million on hand to be famous?" countered Lina.
"Answers maybe, dollars, no," said Carol. I couldn't afford to replace any of those 125 foot candle lights in the infield, or the 100 foot candles in the outfield. Those light towers sure look good in the distance."
"Sure do," said Lina. "So do those Suites and Club Level seats in the drawings. You get five rich friends to buy the Suites, and I'll get 2 rich organizations to rent the Clubs. We can switch seats each game!" They both laughed.
"It will sure be a different ballpark next season," ventured Carol, as he started on a cookie.
"And a different team," said Lina. "We worried about pitching this year, and thought the hitters would be great. Next season we'll have Sam Dyson, and maybe Will Atwood and Mike Cisco, if those two don't go pro; and Parker Bangs will be a sophomore. Curtis Johnson comes back from injury, and Jordon Costner finally gets over his, and we have two closers instead of one. And we'll have Alex Farotto and Will Casey back to get out lefties."
Lina stared at the pitcher's mound that faces the 5,400 seats with cup holders that will be in place for Opening Day 2009 against Duquesne.
He then looked around the semi-circle above the seating area where the fans on the concourse waiting for concessions can peek back at the game. "Won't miss any action while in line, like at The Sarge," he said. "Even if you can't get a seat and have to sit with about 2,500 of your closest Gamecock fans on the grass berm in right field, you can see the game good."
"Where's that guy going?" asked Carol as their eyes followed a construction worker disappear through a hallway behind the Gamecocks' dugout. "Guess he's going to see the weight room or the batting tunnels up on that level above the field, right next to the USC locker room, the Classroom, the Training room and the Media Interview Room. That's going to be a first class facility in itself."
"Sure will be," countered Lina. "But right above them, looking out over the field, will be Ray Tanners' office with some exclusive type seats, right outside his coach's box. Heck, if he gets tossed from a game, he can go to his office and look down on the field and call some shots from there."
"Ray's not going to get tossed," replied Carol, as he rolled up his trash and put it into his brown paper bag. "Not unless he needs to be tossed."
"I worry about parking," said Lina, as he turned his back to the field and looked at the one USC parking lot across the street. Carol craned his neck to look at the homes and lots along the side streets nearby. "That's what shuttle busses are for," he shrugged. "And maybe I will make friends with some of the neighbors."
"For a price," laughed Carol.
"That might be part of the price of progress," replied Lina.
"So, what exactly will be different next year for this USC baseball team?" asked Carol. "Scott Wingo at second, Mack in left and Merrifield in center, Kyle Enders back behind the plate, or that junior college guy, Justin Dalles."
Lina chimed in, "Maybe another junior college guy like Nick Ebert at third. At first, maybe Jesse Barbarro finally gets to play; or if someone like Jeff Jones beats him out, Barbarro can DH with Bangs, and Justin Hopper can play some right field. Sounds like a pretty good lineup.
"Can't count on freshmen, but maybe Adam Westmoreland from Brooklyn-Cayce, or Matt Price from Sumter could help on the mound. Maybe Adam Mathews of White Knoll will play some in right field."
Carol and Lina took a long last look at the field – for this visit. "It sure would have been nice to go to Omaha this year," said Carol.
"Especially with Smoak and Darnell and Havens and Disher," said Lina. "I wonder how many homers would they have hit."
"It's not the homers, but the ‘W's' that count," said Carol. They both glanced toward the scoreboard where the results will be posted for all future Gamecock baseball contests.
"I wonder where the Metro, SEC, and College World Series banners will be placed?" asked Carol.
"We'll let Ray Tanner figure that out," said Lina. "He can ask Coach Raines and Coach Richardson for some ideas, if he wants."
They glanced at the dull orange clay where a smooth grass field will be, and imagined thousands of Gamecock fans crammed into 5,400 seats and spilling out onto the grass berm just below them, not just against Clemson, but SEC opponents and big name teams.
"Time to go," said Carol.
"Let's come back," answered Lina. "We've got more than two months until football season gets cranked up. It's dreaming time." They left silently.
A few moments later, a pickup truck pulled into the same place they had parked. Coach Ray Tanner opened up his bag lunch and looked out over the new home of the baseball Gamecocks and started thinking about the hopes and dreams for the next season.
Carol, Lina, and Carolina Baseball
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