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Stadium turf's ready for baseball

USC's baseball team warms up before their final practice Thursday.
USC's baseball team warms up before their final practice Thursday.

Count Clark Cox among those who are glad the South Carolina baseball team no longer plays at Sarge Frye Field.

USC's sports turf manager for athletics facilities isn't sure the Gamecocks would be as ready to open their season this afternoon against Duquesne if they weren't playing in Carolina Stadium.

The new ballpark has withstood one of the coldest, wettest winters in state history far better than the previous home would have.

"Thank goodness our drainage here is excellent. The grass areas drain so well that we didn't have a lot of problems," said Cox, who is in his sixth year on the job. "If we were at Sarge Frye, we'd have problems. It used to get so wet over there. I don't know what we would have done."

As the Gamecocks begin their second season in the $35.6 million Vista facility, they will do so without missing a beat because of the weather, which featured a December-January rainfall total that was well above normal, and average temperatures that were the lowest in more than 30 years.

"To be honest, as far as baseball, we really haven't changed up a lot of what we do," Cox said. "The perennial ryegrass can grow in cooler temperatures. Maybe it hasn't grown as fast. And it has been so cold this year that it's green, but not as green. All things considered, we're in pretty good shape."

Cox even had to contend with last weekend's fifth-largest snowfall in Columbia history, although his more immediate concern was getting the softball field playable because the team was hosting a season-opening tournament.

But Ray Tanner's baseball team had scrimmages planned, so Cox had to deal with the six inches of snow on the Carolina Stadium field. First, though, he let the sun melt much of it before getting his grounds crew to push the remaining snow into piles and haul it off. He didn't put a tarp down Friday night because he feared not being able to pull it off under the weight of the snow the following day. The baseball team was unable to hold its Saturday scrimmage but got one in on Sunday with no issues.

Like Cox, Tanner has had to work around the weather, yet he's not going to use it as a reason for not being ready to play today.

"In our program, there are no excuses," he said. "Has it been a little bit colder here? Yes. Has it affected us? No. We've had ample time to prepare."

Even when faced with the unusually number of wet, cold days, he didn't allow his players to obsess over the conditions.

"It's all about mind-set. You've got work to do. You do it," he said.

Third baseman Christian Walker, a freshman from the Philadelphia area, hasn't noticed the weather being particularly disruptive.

"This is like the first three weeks of my high school season," Walker said. "I'm used to it."

On those days when the weather is too wet to practice outdoors, the Gamecocks move to the indoor hitting area.

"It's still all about getting your repetitions in the (batting) cages," Walker said. "At the same time you're not getting outside, you know other schools are dealing with it, too."

Senior right-hander Blake Cooper, a native South Carolinian, hasn't let the weather enter his mind as he prepares to take the mound for his opening-day start.

"I just want to get going," Cooper said.

Cox feels the same way.

"This has been the coldest year since I've been here," he said. "It's a challenge for us, but as a turf manager, there's nothing you can do about the temperatures but be patient."

"I've had enough of the cold. I'm ready for some sunshine."

Projected starting lineup

Starters Class Position Comment
Kyle Enders Sr. C Captain takes over behind plate in fifth season
Jeffery Jones Sr. 1B Steps in with Nick Ebert out for academic reasons
Scott Wingo Jr. 2B Tanner hopes his offense matches his strong defense
Bobby Haney Sr. SS Slick-fielding infielder came on strong late last season
Christian Walker Fr. 3B Big things expected from power-hitting freshman
Robert Beary Jr. LF Versatile JUCO transfer replaces injured Jackie Bradley
Whit Merrifield Jr. CF Standout player back for third season as starter
Adam Matthews So. RF Tremendous athlete ready to show his power, speed
Parker Bangs Jr. DH Hard-hitting veteran also will see time on the mound
or Brison Celek Fr. DH Impressive newcomer has shown coaches he can hit
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