Winter weather throws Opening Day plans a curve

Carolina Stadium being cleared of ice, snow ahead of Saturday's season opener

nwhite@thestate.comFebruary 14, 2014 

South Carolina moved its season opener at Carolina Stadium from Friday to Saturday in the hope that its players could throw baseballs instead of snowballs.

USC coach Chad Holbrook called the wintry mix of snow, sleet and ice over the course of the last three days an inconvenience but not something that will keep the Gamecocks from being prepared to begin the season at noon Saturday against Bucknell.

“It’s still wet out there, especially in the outfield,” Holbrook said Friday afternoon of field conditions. “Hopefully, we’ll get a continued couple more hours of sunlight and some drying will take place. I think it will be a great surface (Saturday). The infield is dry as a bone.”

The team practiced Friday, although it wasn’t able to hit balls to the outfield.

“We can take ground balls, and our pitchers can get their work in,” Holbrook said. “By (Saturday), it’ll be as pretty as it always is. Our grounds crew and our people have worked extremely hard.”

Jeff Davis, USC’s associate athletics director of operations and facilities, knows his staff can’t let this weather event put a chill on Opening Day. His stadium and grounds crew will just have more details to work out.

“We’re in pretty good shape as far as playing the game from a facility-readiness standpoint,” Davis said.

Coaches, trainers and grounds crew got a head start Thursday afternoon on getting the ice and snow off the field at Carolina Stadium. The remainder of the work was being done Friday.

The infield has stayed covered through the week, and the stadium’s drainage system is a good one. Still, the extra layers of work kept the crews busy.

“The biggest challenge is remove the ice and any snow off the tarp before we can get it off the field,” Davis said.

Holbrook, who recalled a 20-inch snowfall in Chapel Hill at the start of one season in the late 1990s when he was coaching at North Carolina, added that his staff and players have had to make their own adjustments.

“For position players, it’s fine, but pitchers are on such routines, especially starting pitchers, when they throw, when their bullpen sessions are,” Holbrook said. “That makes things difficult, but all in all, it’s OK. We’ve been practicing on and off in some capacity since August. Our guys are ready to play, and they’re going to be excited whenever we get the chance to play.”

At least his team will not be on a bus. Bucknell on Friday morning began making the 10-hour trek from Lewisburg, Pa., after not being assured of being able to take its flight.

Holbrook announced during his 2 p.m. press conference that Bucknell was more than 200 miles away from Columbia.

“It looks like they’re going to arrive safely, and we’re going to be able to play three games this weekend,” he said.

Holbrook understands that everybody is doing the best they can to play the series.

“We’ll try to fight through this. Luckily, it looks like it’s going to be dry over the weekend,” he said. “It might be a bit cool, but chances are we’re going to get our three games in.”

Davis calls the situation manageable but also knows it remains far more unpredictable than it would be if it were 60 degrees and sunny.

“We know what’s ahead of us, but it’s the unknown we have to react to. Everybody is committed 100 percent to getting it ready,” he said.

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