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Building suspense: Tour points to progress

During a tour of the new University of South Carolina baseball field on Wednesday, April 30,  2008,  local media interviews Coach Ray Tanner.
During a tour of the new University of South Carolina baseball field on Wednesday, April 30, 2008, local media interviews Coach Ray Tanner. The State

Ray Tanner was in a dour mood Sunday as his USC baseball team flew home after being swept at LSU. Looking to feel better, the Gamecocks coach drove that night to the construction site of his team’s new stadium.

“I needed a pick-me-up, and I’ve probably been here about 30 times since then,” Tanner said Wednesday, back at the site again.

It’s been a long wait for the project, which was supposed to be completed for this season. After numerous delays, construction began in January.

Now one-third of the work is completed, and the Gamecocks are scheduled to open next season in the park. The media was given a tour of the construction site Wednesday.

The field at this point is an outline, but many concrete foundations have been completed. The tunnel leading from the locker rooms to the dugouts is nearly done, while the floor has been put down for what will be indoor batting cages and team meeting rooms.

Tanner did a bit of scouting of his own, spending about 15 minutes with officials in what will be the Gamecocks’ first-base dugout. While this was the first time the USC coach had been in that spot, he’s been a regular at the field.

Tanner said he often eats his lunch at the site, sitting in his car beyond the right-center field fence. Athletics director Eric Hyman joked that he put a restraining order on Tanner’s contact with Greg Hughes, the project manager for Contract Construction.

“I think I told (freshman outfielder) Whit (Merrifield) about 32 times when I recruited him that he would play in the new facility,” Tanner said. “So I think in the next couple weeks I’m gonna bring him out here and put him on the field so I can hold up my end of the bargain.”

The Gamecocks hope to open fall practice in the new park, which might have a name by then.

Hyman said officials are in “deep dicussions” about naming rights, declining to say who or how many potential sponsors are involved. According to university rules, the naming rights have to be one-half of the projected $24.7 million construction cost.

There had been worries the cost would increase, but the school is now hopeful it might come in under budget. Hyman said he has been told that because of the sagging economy, other construction projects on campus and elsewhere are costing less.

“I don’t think it’s going to be over (budget), no,” Hyman said.

The total cost of the stadium project is $35.6 million, with much of it being paid by a 30-year bond the athletics department took out late last year.

Tanner said the stadium will have “all the bells and whistles.” One of the highlights is a scoreboard beyond left field that will be 47 feet high and 44 feet wide and stand 86 feet off the ground. It will include a radar gun (“I guess we’ll have to recruit more hard throwers,” Tanner said) and a large video board capable of showing replays.

“It’s pretty mind-boggling when you come out and try to get a sense and a feel. I try to tell people you can’t drive by this stadium and have that sense,” Hyman said. “You’ve got to stop, get out and you’ve got to look around and get the depth and perspective of it. It’s utterly awesome.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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