South Carolina’s softball team will welcome the defending national champions in style starting today in Columbia.
The Gamecocks are opening the new Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field at 7 tonight with a visit from No. 4 Alabama. The new park has not been completed, but South Carolina got approval Thursday from the state to open with a sellout crowd of around 700 people. The facility, which should be fully completed in April or May, will ultimately seat more than 1,000 fans.
“It (came) down to the wire, which is really not that unusual for facilities,” athletics director Ray Tanner said.
“It still largely looks like a construction site right now, but it’s going to be great,” third-year coach Beverly Smith said.
The new complex has been part of South Carolina’s plan since 2006 and sits in the Athletic Village along with the nearly new Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center, Rice Athletics Center and Carolina Tennis Center.
“I have so enjoyed the process,” Smith said. “It can never be fast enough, but for me to have been planning this thing and seeing it come along has been wonderful.
“I certainly think it has been the missing piece. We have been behind in facilities for a long time now, and this puts us on par with what everyone has in the conference. I think it puts us on top. Everything we did is first class. I think now, moving forward, people will be looking to catch up with us.”
The Gamecocks are 16-6 as they being SEC play.
“We are off to a great start, and our fans are going to see good softball this weekend,” Smith said.
Because of the limited capacity of the stadium, all three games of this weekend’s series already are sellouts. High school coaches’ passes, student passes and faculty/staff passes will not be honored this weekend. Free bottled water will be provided to fans, but only limited concessions will be available.
David and Mitzi Beckham, for whom the facility is named, will throw out the first pitch before tonight’s game. Women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley will throw out the first pitch before Saturday’s noon game, and football coach Steve Spurrier will throw out the first pitch before Sunday’s 1 p.m. game.
Spurrier is a longtime supporter of the softball program and often welcomes recruits when they are visiting campus, Smith said.
“He has really been great to me,” Smith said. “I don’t take all (the recruits) there, but when I call, he has always made the time to speak to our recruits and I am so appreciative of that. It speaks to what a program person he is.”