As USC baseball fans streamed through the wrought iron gates of Carolina Stadium to get their first good look at the long-awaited ballpark, they had smiles on their faces and cameras in their hands.
For them it was a picture-perfect Friday evening in more ways than one.
Lined up to enter right at the start of the 5:30 p.m. open house, they excitedly made their way to the seating areas to the strains of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Jerry and Jo Mewbourn of West Columbia quickly found their seats eight rows behind the USC dugout on the first-base side. Jerry Mewbourn snapped one picture after another from his seat.
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“I even got a picture of the seat number,” said Mewbourn, who came prepared to take up to 250 pictures of the $35.6 million ballpark, which seats 6,600 and has an overall capacity of 8,200.
“We’ll have a shot of just about everything by the time I’m done,” he added.
Everything was open in this open house, too. Fans strolled out to the left-field bleacher seats. They strolled through the press box and suites. They strolled on the field.
They even strolled through coach Ray Tanner’s office.
Donna Vaughn, who was wearing a replica USC baseball jersey with Tanner’s No. 1, came away impressed after walking out of his office, which overlooks the field on the first-base side.
“It’s cool,” the West Columbia resident said. “I like all the windows and being able to see out.”
She made regular visits to the ballpark during its construction and loves the finished product.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s a dream come true.”
James Seabrooks of Columbia brought his 9-year-old grandson, Bryce, to check it out. They lounged in one of the two rows of seats outside of Tanner’s office.
“It is nice — the whole thing,” Bryce said.
Seabrooks was so impressed that he said they’ll be attending more games than usual.
“I like that weight room. It looks state of the art,” he said. “And I like those batting cages.”
Midge Hickman of Sumter, a lifetime member of the Gamecock Club, liked the view from her seat directly behind home plate on Row 9. Although she will sentimentally miss the unique charm of Sarge Frye Field, she understands the need for this ballpark after making many road trips to other SEC fields as well as NCAA regional and super regional sites.
“This is fantastic,” she said. “I think the (outfield) perches are really neat.”
USC officials estimated 4,000 fans attended the open house, and athletic director Eric Hyman stood on the concourse ready to talk to all of them. He called this event the culmination of much bubbling anticipation.
“It’s like a volcano that’s been building for years,” said Hyman, adding that he was relieved by the project’s completion.
USC Board of Trustees member Herbert Adams visited many other SEC ballparks over the years to get an idea of what the Gamecocks needed in order to be competitive with top-of-the-line stadiums like the one at Arkansas. He’s convinced the mission was accomplished.
“I think we’ve got as fine a facility as you’re ever going to have,” Adams said.
That opinion was seconded by Jack Kilgore of Pelion. He strolled the third-base concourse with his 11-year-old son Zachary, who was wearing a Carolina football jersey.
““We wanted to see what it was about and how it was set up,” Kilgore said. “This is wonderful. I’m floored. I know it cost a good bit, but it’s definitely worth it.”