I don't care what you want to argue. Clemson versus South Carolina is college baseball's best rivalry. For what Duke and North Carolina bring to college basketball, Clemson and South Carolina bring that to college baseball. A sport that is often overlooked until Omaha comes around, college baseball is arguably the second most popular sport in this state. Football is king, but with both schools having average basketball programs and great baseball programs, it's not hard to see how people here could be more excited about spending March weekends at the ball park instead of watching the NCAA basketball tournament. Both schools tailgate for baseball, and do it well.
Both schools routinely pack their parks, and have invested some good money into the programs. Carolina built a state of the art stadium in Carolina Field to replace the old Sarge Fry Field. Clemson has kept Doug Kingsmore stadium, which will always be "Beautiful Tiger Field" to many fans, but has made extensive renovations, including ongoing construction to add in facilities.
There have been great teams play in this rivalry. Clemson has sent 12 teams to Omaha. South Carolina has sent 11, but has come away with two titles. These teams have met in the post season, including two heartbreaking times in Omaha, where the both times the Tigers needed to win just one game out of two chances against the Gamecocks to advance to the finals, and couldn't do it.
There's been great talent come through. Khalil Greene, Kris Benson, Brad Miller, Jackie Bradley Jr, Justin Smoak, and Mookie Wilson just to name a few. It has been a family affair for many. Scott Wingo, star second baseman on the Gamecocks' two championship teams, is the son of Clemson hall of fame football and baseball player Bill Wingo. I actually ran into Bill at the Sunday game between Clemson and West Virginia a few weeks back. Despite seeing him on television supporting his son in garnet and black during the College World Series a few years ago, he is back wearing the orange, because being a Tiger or a Gamecock is in your blood, and you can't turn your back on it. Which brings me to why this rivalry is the best in all of college baseball: the passion.
When these two teams play, you can cut the tension with a knife. Last season, as Clemson went into the final game of the series after losing the first two, I was a bit worried that the atmosphere at Doug Kingsmore might be a little less exciting. I was wrong. I've been to tournament games at DKS, and the atmosphere at that game was a raucous as any of those. Friday the temperatures will probably be cool, but the passion will be hot. The fans in orange and purple will come out, tailgate, and pack the stadium, despite the weather. There will also be a good contingent of garnet and black in the outfield. Saturday, Fluor Field will be an even split between Clemson and South Carolina. And Sunday, expect to see a solid patch of orange in a pack house of garnet. The passion is in the fans. Clemson fans have the extra motivation of wanting to end the streak of losing series to South Carolina. Gamecock fans are banking on winning this series because Clemson restored order and beat them in football. But even without that added edge, this is still the best rivalry in college baseball.
The players know what it means, the fans know what it means, and the coaches know what it means. Jack Leggett is a hall of fame coach, but still gets knocked over his lack of NCAA titles and his recent struggles against South Carolina. Don't you think he'd love to put the doubters to bed, at least for a week, by winning this series? I know he does. This is not like any other series. This is the series that defines the season, and I love being apart of Clemson. I love that we get to show our passion in more seasons than just football. And I love that we get another chance to beat South Carolina. But win or lose, this is college baseball's best rivalry.