It felt a little different for Ray Tanner when South Carolina opened the 2013 baseball season without him in the dugout. It felt a lot different when he bit into a concession stand pretzel midway through the game.
“I had never had that before,” Tanner joked after the Gamecocks beat Liberty 4-3 in the first game of the post-Ray Tanner Era. “Not quite the same anxiety behind the fence that there is in front of the fence. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.”
Tanner resigned his job as the baseball coach in July after 16 years to become South Carolina’s athletics director. He watched from the field prior to Friday’s season-opener as his No. 1 jersey was retired and a segment of Williams Street was officially designated Tanner Way. It is the first time the school has retired a baseball jersey, and his name and No. 1 were painted on the left field fence at Carolina Stadium.
“What happened here today is overwhelming,” Tanner said. “I just can’t find the words to describe how wonderful the pregame was and how honored and humbled I am.”
Tanner, who won two national titles and advanced to two other College World Series finals, also received a proclamation from the General Assembly and was presented a commemorative license plate that honors his back-to-back national titles. He was joined on the field by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin as well as state Sen. John Courson.
The school prepared a video tribute to Tanner showing highlights from his career and the words “Thanks for the memories you’ve given us.”
“It’s been a wonderful ride here,” Tanner said. “It’s been a great journey. There was a time there I was like, ‘Wow, this has been something wonderful.’ ”
Many of the team’s fans had hoped the field at Carolina Stadium would be named after Tanner during Friday’s ceremony, but Tanner said he didn’t feel slighted because that didn’t happen.
“Normally, anybody that gets something named after them, they run you out of town soon thereafter,” Tanner said. “I don’t want to be in that group. The things that happened today might have been a little over the top.”
Tanner, who had a record of 738-316 and was named national coach of the year three times at South Carolina, was introduced prior to a postgame news conference by Gene Warr, the chairman of the school’s board of trustees.
“When he came (to South Carolina), I think all of us were very hopeful, had high expectations, but as we look back now, I just think, ‘Who would have seen that coming?’ ” Warr said. “For however long I will live, I will never forget exactly where I was and how I felt in June 2010 and June 2011 (when the Gamecocks captured national titles). Coach Tanner brought the kind of success to us that we had always dreamed of here in sports but had never had before.”
Throughout the game, Tanner was lauded in videos shown on the scoreboard by former players, including Justin Smoak, Adam Everett, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Scott Wingo and Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive.
“You own the record book in college baseball,” Slive said. “Best of all for us is you are going to stay with us as Carolina’s athletic director. We can’t be more pleased.”
Tanner made a point to not come around Carolina Stadium too often while his successor Chad Holbrook was preparing the Gamecocks for 2013 season, he said, but he did stop by Thursday night to address the team after its final preseason practice. He also fielded a call Friday morning from the coaching staff asking a question about the designated hitter rule.
On Friday afternoon, Tanner sat in the third row on the first base sideline enjoying the game.
“Like a lot of baseball fans, I was a fan today,” he said. “I was sitting there wondering what kind of moves Coach Holbrook was going to make. It was a lot of fun. I was delighted we were able to win our opener.”
Ray Tanner honored
Chad Holbrook postgame