GREENVILLE — Try getting a glove on this crazy bouncer: If the neutral-site game in the nation’s best college baseball rivalry moves back to Charleston for a year or two it might be with Clemson head coach Monte Lee voting “no.”
And with new South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston as at least willing to listen, or perhaps an ally.
Lee, the former College of Charleston player and coach, liked the idea of a neutral-site game in the Lowcountry early in his Clemson tenure. He said so publicly. Now that Lee is 3-0 against the Gamecocks in Greenville, not so much.
The new guy?
“Tell them to be aggressive in their bid,” Kingston said when I asked about the possibility of moving the neutral-site game to Charleston.
The minor-league Charleston RiverDogs will do just that. Expect Myrtle Beach, Charlotte and North Augusta to join Greenville and Charleston in the fray. Again.
A four-year Fluor Field contract for the neutral-site game expired with the last out Saturday. Request for Proposal letters will go out in the next few weeks to cities interested in hosting the game in 2019 and beyond, South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner told The Post and Courier on Saturday.
Bill Murray, Michael Roth
Another great Fluor Field crowd dug in on a chilly Saturday. The festive mix of 7,385 people wearing garnet and orange and drinking hot chocolate saw Clemson knot the three-game series with a 5-1 victory.
But the neutral-site concept worked just as well when it was unveiled in 2012 at Charleston’s Riley Park, complete with the Lowcountry’s own Bill Murray shaking hands in both dugouts before the game.
Michael Roth, the star of the Gamecocks’ College World Series championship runs in 2010 and 2011, was a starting pitcher.
South Carolina center fielder Evan Marzilli made a spectacular catch to rob Clemson’s Jay Baum of extra bases and preserve a 3-2 victory.
Worse than any peril Murray and Co. faced in “Ghostbusters” …
Sillier than any part of “What About Bob?” or “Groundhog Day” …
The neutral-site game hasn’t been back to Charleston (or left Greenville) since 2013.
Sure, Greenville is most convenient. And hard to beat the Fenway Park look in the West End. But moving this thing around the state – and maybe slightly beyond – is good for baseball.
- Fan interest now
- Youth interest later
The Clemson and South Carolina programs annually are full of the best baseball ambassadors in the Palmetto State. With youth interest in the sport waning, baseball needs to plant as many seeds in as many places as possible.
A neutral-site game every once in a while at North Augusta’s new SRP Park sounds great. Part of a new Riverside Village shopping complex aside the Savannah River, the 5,000-seat ballpark opens as home to the Class A South Atlantic League’s Augusta GreenJackets next month (Clemson will play Georgia at SRP Park on April 10).
Myrtle Beach seems like a good idea.
Charlotte might be a reach but BB&T Ballpark is considered one of the best venues in triple-A and has 10,200 seats.
Greenville won the 2014 competition for the 2015-2018 neutral-site games after officials from both schools sent RFP letters to Greenville, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte and North Augusta with a strong indication the four games would be divided between at least two sites.
But clearly the two sides wanted Greenville, as examination of documents obtained by The Post and Courier reveal.
The bids included net profit estimates per game:
Myrtle Beach: $170,707
North Augusta: $168,120
Note that these were not sealed bids, just an RFP survey. Greenville, for instance, offers lower travel costs.
Clearly, however, the parties in 2015 wanted Greenville.
‘We love Greenville’
Lee is a smart guy.
A straight-shooter, too. Always has been.
Why leave a place that lends to big wins and fan-base comfort.
“Obviously we love it in Greenville but we would be open to any ballpark in the state if we feel like it’s a good fit,” Lee said Saturday. “We’ll play wherever they tell us to play.”
I reminded Lee that he is a huge part of that “they” he is talking about. He, as head coach at Clemson, will have a big say in this.
“Yeah,” Lee said. “And I would say that as good as the series has been in Greenville, we’d love to keep it here. But if both parties decided to move to Charleston, we’re open to that.”
That’s every bit as pro-Greenville as Lee’s predecessor, Jack Leggett.
On the South Carolina side, the positive for Charleston is that Gamecock fans are getting sick of losing in Greenville, which some folks in garnet consider a Clemson suburb.
South Carolina is 2-4 in Greenville neutral-site games.
“I don't think it will be in Greenville forever,” Tanner said back in 2014. “Certainly Charleston will have opportunities going forward.”
Michael Roth, now with the Chicago Cubs, has played in six Major League organizations.
Bill Murray has made “St. Vincent” and “The Monuments Men” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Jungle Book” (absolutely stole the picture as Baloo the bear) since 2012.
Maybe Roth can send Murray, the Cubs’ most famous fan, a new ballcap to wear for a certain ceremonial first pitch in 2019.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff