Francis Marion baseball coach Art Inabinet clearly remembers the phone call last May when he made a unique request of his friend Ray Tanner.
The traditionally-strong baseball Patriots were going to begin playing this season at new Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium, and Inabinet hoped to make the first game special by playing the two-time defending national champions.
“I just said, ‘Coach, I realize this is something you probably can’t do, but we’re opening a new stadium next year. Is there any way you would consider coming over and playing us on a weeknight so we could have a good crowd and open this new facility up correctly?’”
At first, Inabinet thought the call disconnected because of a five-second pause, but Tanner was just turning it over quickly in his mind.
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“He came back and said, ‘Sure, I think that’s something we can work out,’” Inabinet said.
Tanner later cleared his initial acceptance through official channels, and the two coaches settled on Wednesday night as the playing date to christen the new baseball facility, which features 800 seats and berm seating for 1,500 more spectators.
Many Division-I coaches might not have considered playing the game because FMU is an NCAA Division II program, and coaches always have RPI concerns relating to strength of schedule and postseason bids.
But Tanner thought the tradeoff — if his team wins, the RPI isn’t helped, but if it loses, the RPI takes a hit -- was worth it to promote college baseball in the Pee Dee.
“I like the atmosphere and the energy of a new ballpark,” Tanner said.
“It’s a school in our state, and I believe in moving around and taking our team to different places. I did it for the right reasons. I hope the results are good as well.”
Inabinet, who’s in his 12th season as FMU’s coach, appreciates Tanner’s attitude.
“It’s more than just a baseball game. It’s an event for the people here in Florence,” Inabinet said. “He didn’t have to do this, but he thought it would be good for baseball in the state. So he decided to come over and help us out.”
This is the first time Tanner’s team has played a D-II program in his 16 seasons at USC.
USC has played Francis Marion 14 times, the last in 1987. The Patriots won two of those meetings, including the 1981 season, when the Gamecocks reached the College World Series.
Inabinet has guided the Patriots (26-13), who are ranked No. 20 in the Collegiate Baseball poll, to six Division II national tournaments, including the past three seasons. The Patriots reached the D-II College World Series in 2006.
FMU features former USC pitcher Spencer Jordan, one of its top weekend starters, and former Virginia Tech outfielder Buddy Sosnoskie, who played against the Gamecocks in the 2010 NCAA regionals in Columbia.
“If we get beat over there, it’s not going down as an upset,” Tanner said. “It’s a baseball game, they’re playing at home, and we’re on the road. They’ve got a good program. Sure, they could beat us.”
Inabinet expects his players to enjoy the night. But he’s certainly not going to get caught up in any talk about knocking off the No. 10 Gamecocks (23-9).
“It’s a good opportunity for the guys in our program to have a measuring stick of where we are and to compete against one of the best programs in the country,” Inabinet said.