Chad Holbrook wants USC baseball fans in their seats Friday at a sold-out Carolina Stadium by 2:35 p.m.
A ceremony to honor Ray Tanner, the former coach of 16 seasons and current athletics director, will take place at that time before the start of the season-opener against Liberty, a game that will mark the debut as a head coach for Holbrook.
“We’re going to do something special for Ray Tanner that all of Gamecock nation will be thrilled and happy to see,” Holbrook said. “In many ways, it will be an emotional day. It’s certainly going to be emotional for me, but one of the main reasons is for what we have in store for Coach Tanner.”
Holbrook wouldn’t specify what will take place in the ceremony, but it could involve retiring Tanner’s No. 1 jersey or renaming some part of the field for him. There also could be formal recognition of Columbia City Council’s August resolution to name three blocks of Williams Street between Catawba and Blossom Streets alongside the ballpark as Tanner Way.
Former USC assistant Jim Toman, who played for Tanner at N.C. State and coached here with him from 1997-2007, will be in the other dugout as Liberty’s coach in what amounts to a reunion.
“That makes it even more special, as well,” Holbrook said.
The real Monty
Sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery (6-1, 3.62 ERA in 2012) will start on the mound Friday. With the Tanner ceremony and Holbrook’s debut a big part of the day, he’s trying to stay cool.
“There’s a little bit more excitement than nerves,” Montgomery said. “I’m trying to think of it as just a baseball game, and go out there and have as much fun as I can. I’m going to be prepared and not think about it too much.”
Holbrook said that Saturday’s starter, senior right-hander Colby Holmes (7-2, 3.05), could have pitched Friday’s opener.
“Nothing really separated Jordan and Colby. They both have pitched extremely well since August. They both deserve to go Friday,” Holbrook said. “Who knows? Colby might go next Friday. But we’re going to start this way, and we’ve got complete confidence in both of them.”
Senior left-hander Nolan Belcher (4-2, 2.12) will start Sunday’s game.
Holbrook decided not to release the final 35-man roster until this morning, but he has made most of his moves while getting the number down from 45 over the past two weeks.
Football players Ahmad Christian and Shon Carson both made the team as outfielders. Although the pair of redshirt freshmen need more work defensively, Christian has made strides at the plate and could see a fair share of playing time.
Among the players not to land roster spots were a third football player, freshman wide receiver and pitcher-outfielder Kwinton Smith, and freshman first baseman Ryan Ripken, the son of MLB Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. Both will redshirt.
Much of the starting lineup had become apparent in recent weeks, but the final piece of the puzzle fell into place with Holbrook’s announcement that junior infielder Erik Payne will be the full-time designated hitter for the time being.
Payne, who batted .265 with three homers and 19 RBIs in a part-time role last season, has excited Holbrook with his development as a hitter who can provide some much-needed power.
“He’s going to be right there in the middle of the lineup,” Holbrook said. “He deserved it. He worked hard for it.”