Kip Bouknight started the annual game for the South Carolina alumni team on the mound Thursday night against the Columbia Blowfish.
The all-time wins leader for the Gamecocks pitched one inning, allowing one run, but the right-hander took his place on the field for reasons that had as much to do with camaraderie as competition. Bouknight, who won 45 games from 1998-2001, cited the closeness of the early teams under former coach Ray Tanner.
“It’s an honor to have an opportunity to be around such good people and get to know their families as they grow up,” Bouknight said. “You get to see guys that you played with for a long time and get a chance to put on a uniform again. It’s fun.”
The Gamecocks definitely had fun by winning 9-8 in a six-inning game, the third victory for them in the seven-year history of the series. USC alumni manager Trey Dyson drilled a two-run single in the fourth inning that gave his team an 8-6 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish. Matt Riddle hit a solo homer for the Gamecocks in the third.
Dyson, who played for the Gamecocks from 1999-2002, has put together the alumni team every season and found it to be a labor of love.
“Some of the guys give me a hard time because they’re getting older. But we love it so much,” Dyson said. “The nucleus of the team is pretty much the early Tanner years. It’s just special to still be so close to those guys. Just to have the competitive fire that still burns in us also is something special. It’s one of the reasons we won so many games.”
But he also likes that many recent USC standouts, such as pitchers Nolan Belcher and Adam Westmoreland, who played during the national championship era, have joined the alumni effort.
“That’s probably the best part about coming out here, getting to know guys like that,” Dyson said. “All it does is strengthen the Gamecock baseball alumni, which is so strong to begin with.”
The alumni also had an honorary team member this season in USC coach Chad Holbrook, who went to North Carolina and coached there for 15 seasons before joining the Gamecocks for the 2009 season as an assistant to Tanner. Dyson called Holbrook a natural to join the squad.
“It’s Gamecock pride,” Dyson said. “When the leader of the Gamecock baseball team is cool enough to join us and participate in the game, I think that says a lot about him. It’s great.”
Holbrook, the head coach the past two seasons, appreciates the winning culture that has created such strong bonds in the program. Holbrook’s night on the field didn’t go as well. He pinch-hit in the fifth inning and grounded out to first base, falling down in the base path as he tried to beat it out.
“It’s a special group of people that care a lot about the baseball program here at South Carolina,” Holbrook said. “That’s one of the neat things about the tradition that Coach (Bobby) Richardson, Coach (June) Raines and Coach Tanner created here. The former players are really important to the program and they really care about the program.”
USC first baseman Kyle Martin got a taste of the game from the other side. After deciding not to sign with the Los Angeles Angels, who drafted him in the 20th round this summer, Martin will return for his senior season with the Gamecocks.
Thursday night marked his first game for the Blowfish, and it just happened to come against some of his coaches and former teammates.
“Being out there with Buscher and Holbrook, it’s going to be exciting to be on the other side,” Martin said. “I’m looking forward to playing for the Blowfish because I’m back in front of Columbia fans.”
After the game, Blowfish owner Bill Shanahan donated $1,000 to the Reece Holbrook Foundation – $100 for each of USC’s nine runs plus $100 more for good measure.