I arrived at Clemson University about two hours before game time, the Tigers were taking on the “U” (Miami). I was looking forward to the game since both teams were ranked in the Top 20. I have found that college baseball in the south is a great venue with many knowledgeable fans who have no problem supporting their team, while making sure that the umpires and opposing players know that they are there! As I pulled into the gorgeous Clemson campus, the love of sport was on full display, all the athletic facilities were in the same area, but they were not just “clumped” together. Each facility is spaced so that each has enough area, all have been nicely landscape. The vast green areas were complimented with water, the view blew me away. I instantly fell in love with this campus! The football stadium was up on the hill surrounded by other campus buildings with greenery all around. A short walk away was the baseball stadium which was surrounded by beautiful “grass” parking areas with a a river off to the left, lazily flowing it’s natural course. I instantly felt my heart fill with Tiger Pride, what you say? Clemson is a small university with about 15,000 students in a town of only 12,000 permanent residents but this place just felt right. I knew I would meet alum and student alike that were and/or are proud to attend this wonderful university. For some reason, I felt apart of it.
In the parking lots were many people tailgating before game time, tents were erected. People were walking all over. I parked my car, approached a tent to inquire who and where I would find the best people to speak with about the fan experience. The group of twenty something’s immediately told me that I should talk to the people down by the river; and, in particular the “Cheap Seats”. Initially, I didn’t understand what they meant by the “Cheap Seats”. I was excited to see all the campers and instantly thought of the experience I had at LSU. At LSU everyone parked in RV’s and partied all weekend long as they attended baseball games. (I was told numerous times, “That was nothing. You should come during football season”.) Here it was the same type of setup but with a wonderful view incorporated into the experience. Going back to my car, I selected a new place to park, under some trees, on the corner next to the river beside a large camper. I approached a few guys to inquire about their baseball experience here, they immediately supplied me with a cold refreshment and explained to me about the “Cheap Seats”. I was very excited to hear what they were about to tell me. I asked if I could profile them and they didn’t know what to say at first. There was a lot of their group who were down near the lake at that particular moment. And, some were on the lake which was near by. A lady, who wants to remain nameless came into the area and was introduced to me. She was very confident and quite welcoming and she explained that tickets are hard to come by for the “Cheap Seats”, since there are only 40 issued. Now the section is referred to as “a suite”, she said with a chuckle. She told me she would see what she could do to get me into the “Cheap Seats”. She talked with another of the group and came through with a ticket. I was very gracious and blown away by her hospitality.
The “Cheap Seats” is a mini-bus that was transformed into a tailgating spectacle of legendary proportions. This “legend” was started in January 2003 by Dave Topham, Frank Murphy, Bryan Griffiths, and 15 other Clemson students. The bus was equipped with a wooden deck on its roof, a classic Clemson paint job, plenty of lawn furniture and at times the occasional old couch to accommodate 20 comfortably, and, of course, a grill. The students used to drive this “spectacle on wheels” to the baseball games and park it behind the outfield wall. At the time the wall was 10 feet tall, so they needed the height of the bus. Through the years, concerns arose of about safety. So, to stay in line with OSHA standards, the athletic department let them build scaffolding around the bus. The stadium was renovated in 2009, with the decision to incorporate the bus into Doug Kingsmore permanently. Currently, the bus is situated behind the right field foul pole, it has aluminum decking built on top and around it. This new addition can hold 40 easily. Behind the seating is a bar and grilling area for “tailgating” during the game. (I chowed down on some very good chicken and corn on the cob). I was given a front row seat by the “Cheap Seat” patrons. These were not just any old seats, these seats were from the old Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha (where the College World Series is played for the uninitiated). Someone said that have good “Karma”, another person said, “…and we need all we can get since we have never won a baseball national championship. We have been to the championship, but are holding second place for the most appearances without winning it” (Florida State holds the #1 spot in that category).
I was equally blown away by how beautifully manicured the baseball field was. It was so perfect the turf looked artificial, but greener and was REAL deal. Regular readers know I don’t like the artificial turf that Texas Tech and Texas utilize, I just think it takes away from the game. John Scketa explained to me that Clemson has an unbelievable turf management program at the school. He pointed out to me that a famous professor on the subject and volunteers helped to maintain the field between innings. I spoke to John, who is retired from Clemson (26 years, 4 months, 9 days employed). He was in charge of the fan experience at all the different sporting venues and explained how everything has evolved during the years. “Years ago you couldn’t play the music the way you can today”, he said. He began incorporating that 10 years ago pushing the limits, since the fans really enjoyed this type of thing the NCAA. Then, school relented. (The old adage, “If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em!”) One thing John says he was able accomplish was to always report the weather in Omaha, Nebraska, just to remind everyone what the goal was – Home of the College World Series. I had a great conversation with John. If I write a book about this experience, I will share some of the boundary pushing things and inside jokes they did.
I was pleasantly surprised that they throw the ball out to the right fielder between innings (great tradition and fan interaction), like they do at Southern Miss. I didn’t ask if I could do it, there wasn’t as much room for error like there was at Southern Miss. I was not disappointed with how they treated the right fielder from Miami. They, too, were on him from the get-go regarding his constant “priming and primping” of his uniform. These guys were not quite at the level of Colorado Mesa, but they were close. Molly Schaefer told me of a time when Miami was in town a few years before. One of their pitchers didn’t get along with their right fielder. He gave them all kinds of information about him, needless to say it was a very long and frustrating weekend for that player. “The more information we have the more dangerous we are”, Molly stated proudly. I was chuckling most of the night at what was being said to the player. But, their cajoling was always in the spirit of the game, and I enjoyed it very much. The “Cheap Seats” also wave this giant flag when they score a run. I missed it the first time they scored since I was having a lot of fun and was taking a lot of notes. Soon after the missing the flag waving, I was in the correct position to hear the bugle player. I was told that once the he was lubricated enough, I would get to experience this performance. Sure enough, towards the end of the game he was blowing the horn quite a few times. I loved it! I was also told that when he indulged a little too much you can’t quite make out what he is playing.
The players and coaches love the “Cheap Seats”. When they won the Super Regionals a few years ago, the players rushed the “Cheap Seats” to celebrate. When they reached them, the Champaign showers commenced, with the players climbing the fence and the party was on! To view – click, You Tube video. On this particular night Miami beat Clemson in 12 innings, 3-2. I had a great time at the game and was included in another Clemson tradition. After the game, the fans and players sing the school song. I walked backed to where everyone was camping and stayed up talking about my trip with all the wonderful people I met. They were so gracious to me and made sure to feed me with the 12:30 a.m. taco making extravaganza! I have to say this is one of my favorite experiences so far on this trip and I would love to come back again! Thank you “Cheap Seaters” for sharing your experience with me, I will forever be grateful!! By the way, the “Cheap Seats” are no longer cheap. They are some of the most expensive seats in the stadium and there is a small waiting list to get them! Also, like LSU, I was told to come to a football game to see how crazy it gets.
NOTE: I updated by biography since I hadn’t really touched it in three months. Click here if you would like to check it out: “biography“. That will get you where you want to “look”. If you have read it before, just scroll down and look for the update from this past week.
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