CLEMSON — The baseball facilities arms race can be traced to Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles.
When the charming downtown retro ballpark with asymmetric dimensions and skyline views opened in 1992, it dramatically improved the fan and player experience in addition to generating new revenue. The stadium immediately made every baseball venue in the country outdated.
In the two decades that have followed, the majority of Major League Baseball teams built new ballparks. Dozens of minor league teams have new stadiums, and the construction boom has trickled down to the college level where new stadiums and state-of-the-art clubhouses have been built.
As Clemson and South Carolina renew their three-game, barnstorming rivalry tour across the state this weekend, the Tigers will be reminded that their baseball facilities are outdated.
The series starts Friday at Clemson’s Doug Kingsmore Stadium at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, Clemson and USC will play at Flour Field (2 p.m.), a venue that was built in 2006 as a centerpiece of the revitalization of Greenville’s West End district. On Sunday, the series concludes in Columbia (3 p.m.) at Carolina Stadium, which is perhaps the premier college baseball facility in the country. South Carolina has won two College World Series titles since the facility opened in 2009.
Not only has Clemson fallen behind the Gamecocks on the field, the Tigers are also behind in facilities.
“Once you fall behind it’s a lot of work to get caught back up,” Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli said. “You are always recruiting against other schools in the area that are upgrading their facilities. Virginia has put in a new field, everyone knows the facilities South Carolina has right down the road, and the facility North Carolina has. These are people we are recruiting against on a regular basis.
“It’s just a matter of constantly improving in order to stay out in front of that race.”
Clemson isn’t considering a new stadium.
What Clemson coach Jack Leggett said his program needs is a new multi-million dollar players’ facility, the kind of state-of-the-art clubhouse and players’ lounge that are popping up around the region.
“Everybody pretty much has got (new clubhouses) now,” Leggett said. “We have to get ourselves there.”
The idea for a players’ complex has been in the works for several years at Clemson.
Clemson associate director of major gifts, Bob Mahony, said Clemson is $300,000 short of its $3 million goal of private donations toward such a facility, which will be matched by another $3 million from IPTAY, Clemson’s athletic booster club.
Mahony said Clemson’s in the process of choosing an architect for the project – which could happen this week – and that there is an “urgency” to begin construction.
The $6 million price tag was for a plan to build a three-story facility behind the first-base grandstand. Mahony cautioned that a new architect’s plan could be more expensive because Clemson wants a facility that won’t become obsolete.
Mahony said the earliest construction could begin on the project is 2014.
Leggett hopes South Carolina’s baseball success and facilities have increased the urgency to raise funds and break ground on the project.
“Personally, I would hope so,” Leggett said. “Compared to the people we are competing against, our facilities need to be equal or better. I really like our venue but we have to continue to do some things.”
Clemson’s also concerned with keeping up with its ACC rivals. North Carolina spent $29.5 million on renovating Boshamer Stadium and its clubhouse in 2008, and Virginia opened Davenport Field in 2002.
Clemson has made improvements to Doug Kingsmore Stadium in recent years.
There was the $5 million renovation in 2003. The left-field grandstand opened in 2010, part of a $2 million gift from former pitcher Thomas Chapman. This season Clemson replaced bleacher seats in the main grandstand with chair-back seats, and added an improved videoboard. A new playing surface will be put in after this season.
Still, Leggett said there are major needs.
“We have some really good things going for us,” Leggett said, “but we have to enhance some certain areas to help us recruit, to help us get to that next level.”
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