From 1999 through 2001, Kip Bouknight toed the rubber for South Carolina baseball as the opening day starter.
He was back in front of the Gamecock faithful Friday afternoon at Carolina Stadium to throw the ceremonial first pitch for the start of the 2010 season and celebrate the 2000 team that won 56 games.
It brought back vivid memories for the former Golden Spike Award winner who grew up across the Congaree River in Cayce.
"It's a great honor to be able to throw out the first pitch on a new season," Bouknight said. "It brings back a lot of good memories. I'm here a lot visiting with coach Tanner and the other coaches. I've gotten close with different players over the years, and I expect that will continue."
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Bouknight recently retired from professional baseball after eight seasons in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Triple-A with the New Orleans Zephyrs in 2006 and the Indianapolis Indians in 2007. He pitched for the Phillies' Double-A team in Reading, Pa., in 2008 before being released in July.
He pitched last year in the Atlantic Independent League in Somerset, N.J., before retiring at the end of the season in September.
"It takes hard work to get to the major leagues, and timing is everything, and I have no regrets," Bouknight said. "You have to have things bounce your way a little bit. I was pleased with my career. I did everything I possibly could and tried my best. It just wasn't in God's plans for me to make it in the major leagues, and I'm fine with that."
Bouknight is living in Cayce and recently accepted a position as a marketing representative with Federated Insurance.
Bouknight played at Sarge Frye Field but has a great appreciation for Carolina Stadium, in which USC is playing for the second season.
He trained in Columbia during his offseason and has stayed close to the program. He said Carolina Stadium is greatly deserved for a program that has won more SEC games than any other over the past decade, and the fourth-most of any program in the country.
That 2000 team started USC's steak of 10 consecutive appearances in the NCAA regionals.
"This is first-class and well-deserved," Bouknight said. "It's an outstanding facility for an outstanding program and an outstanding leader in Ray Tanner. I've played in a lot of nice stadiums in Double-A and Triple-A, and this certainly is as good as it gets as far as college baseball is concerned."
The right-hander still holds several USC pitching records. His most memorable season came in 2000, when he went 17-1, tying a school record for wins. He won the Golden Spike Award for best amateur baseball player and was named SEC Male Athlete of the Year.
He is first in school history in innings pitched (482), career starts (66) and victories (45).
"Kip is a tremendous former athlete and person," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "He's been around our program a lot. He's a full-time employee now so we may not see him as much as we did, but he's been a great influence when he was here and when he comes back. He's been an integral part of this program and it was great to have him back today."