Sapakoff: More than Gamecocks and Tigers; here's what makes S.C. college baseball No. 1
College baseball in the Palmetto State comes in like a lion. Snowflakes fell on Greenville's Fluor Field last March as South Carolina and Clemson players tried to warm up for the middle game of their annual series.
College Baseball previews
College of Charleston
The season often goes out with a lion's share of NCAA regional slots relative to population.
No state takes college baseball so seriously - from players and coaches to fans.
It's all about the sights, sounds and smells. The Cajun Café at Clemson's Doug Kingsmore Stadium, the early tailgaters at the corner of Wheat and Williams streets in Columbia, any concession stand at Charleston's Riley Park - they all deserve All-America votes.
Thankfully, Opening Day is less than a week away.
With Citadel head coach Fred Jordan as our guide, a quick tour through the three reasons why Florida, Texas, California and other states don't match up:
Eight - count 'em, eight - South Carolina schools have sent teams to the NCAA tournament in the last 10 years.
You never know when we'll have another 2005. That year, six South Carolina teams made the tournament. Coastal Carolina was a No. 1 seed in Tempe. Clemson also was a No. 1 seed. The College of Charleston, South Carolina and Winthrop were No. 2 seeds and Furman a No. 4 seed.
Two College World Series trophies are on display just inside the front gates at Carolina Stadium. Those 2010 and 2011 stays in Omaha raised baseball interest in the state to another level.
"We're just very fortunate in our state that baseball is emphasized a great deal in high school and at the college level," said Jordan, who has guided The Citadel to seven NCAA appearances since 1994. "That goes back from years and years of tradition. You can go back to (former Clemson head coach) Bill Whilhelm, to (former South Carolina head coaches) Bobby Richardson and June Raines and to (former Citadel head coach) Chal Port, and to Tom Wall at Furman. We're such a small state but any year we can have four or five teams in a regional."
Not so long ago - the mid-1990s - The Citadel played at dilapidated College Park, and the College of Charleston played at a makeshift Remley's Point facility.
Now the Bulldogs share Riley Park - one of the finest ballparks in Class A minor league baseball - with the Charleston RiverDogs. The Cougars have upgraded to The Ballpark at Patriots Point. Charleston Southern's CSU Ballpark is a great little place to watch a game.
"That's probably the most impressive thing that I've experienced in my watch here at The Citadel," Jordan said, "seeing how many programs have upgraded their facilities."
Everyone knows Carolina Stadium is a palace, with 8,242 seats and a postcard view of downtown Columbia from behind the plate.
Clemson's Doug Kingsmore Stadium just got a major renovation. Wofford has a tiny but sparkling home field.
The Winthrop Ballpark is a gem.
Coastal Carolina continually makes improvements to Watson Stadium, and also has postseason access to TicketReturn.com Field, home of the minor league Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
High school coaches
It's not just the Division I schools. Francis Marion stunned two-time defending champion South Carolina in 2012, winning 5-4 in the inaugural game at Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium in Florence.
High school coaches
Claflin, Lander, Voorhees and Benedict are tangled up in rivalries. Coker reached the Division II National Finals last summer. USC Lancaster is on the upswing.
Spartanburg Methodist is a junior college powerhouse.
Much of the credit for preparing so many college players goes to South Carolina's high school coaches. They rake fields, maybe coach JV football. They don't get a fair hourly wage.
The college coaches love these guys.
"To me, the high school baseball coaches in South Carolina and Florida take more pride in producing a very competitive product than anywhere else in the country," said Jordan, a former head coach at Stratford, James Island and Fort Johnson high schools.
But from school to school, Florida doesn't have the college baseball facilities, fan passion, per capita NCAA tournament participation or the back-to-back national championships.
They sure don't have snowflakes as an umpire prepares to shout, "Play ball!"
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff