South Carolina honored former baseball coach Ray Tanner before its sold-out Opening Day game Friday afternoon against Liberty by naming a street outside Carolina Stadium after him and retiring his No. 1 jersey.
Tanner spent 16 seasons as USC’s coach and led the Gamecocks to national titles in 2010 and 2011 and runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2012. He brought USC to the College World Series six times in all. Tanner was promoted to athletic director after last season and hired his top assistant, Chad Holbrook, to replace him.
The 25-minute pregame ceremony began with a video board message from USC president Harris Pastides, who told Tanner, “Since our founding in 1801, we’ve been waiting to break through that glass ceiling that said, ‘Wait till next year.’ I truly believe your best days in serving the university are still ahead of you.”
Then a sign was unveiled outside Carolina Stadium, at the corner of Williams and Wheat streets, renaming Williams Street as Tanner Way, though the Williams Street sign at the intersection remains. Tanner stood on the field with his family and was presented with a framed street sign for Tanner Way.
A resolution from the South Carolina General Assembly was read, honoring Tanner. He was given a framed copy of it. Then a commemorative South Carolina license plate honoring USC’s back-to-back titles was announced. Proceeds from its sales will benefit a scholarship fund. (To buy the plates, click here.)
The ceremony wound down with a video tribute to Tanner that included interviews with former players, talking about their memories of Tanner. Pitcher Michael Roth did an impression of Tanner’s gravelly voice in his interview.
Though Roth was in Arizona for spring training with the Angels organization, several former players were on-hand Friday, including last year’s right fielder, Adam Matthews. After the video tribute, former players unveiled a graphic on the left field wall with “TANNER” above his No. 1, which was inside a white, pinstriped circle. USC presented Tanner with his framed jersey.
It is the first retired jersey in USC baseball history, but a USC spokesman clarified after the ceremony that the number is not retired, so someone could still technically wear it. Nobody on the current USC roster wears No. 1.
Tanner then addressed the fans, telling them, “I’m extremely honored and humbled by this reception today. Please let me share with you that this celebration today is because of so many other reasons. There have been many great coaches before me, with the likes of Bobby Richardson and June Raines. We have had many, many great assistant coaches, two which are in opposing dugouts today as head coaches, in Jim Toman (of Liberty) and Chad Holbrook. I stand before you because of the great players that are here today and the great players of years gone by. These guys are unbelievable.
“Lastly, because of you (fans), we have history, we have tradition, but the great Gamecocks that you are, the great baseball fans, the support that you’ve given guys in this dugout. You have taken an outstanding program to another level. I want to thank my family for their love and support, for allowing me to be involved in a little boys’ game for many, many years. I will forever be grateful, and I hope to be around here for many, many years to come. Now it’s time. Let’s play some baseball.”
Tanner stepped to the mound to deliver the first pitch, as former players stood behind him. He wound up and zipped it straight toward the plate, with his traditional three-quarters delivery.
Between innings, Tanner’s former players offered video tributes to him. Jackie Bradley Jr. delivered his, in the middle of the first, while sitting in Tanner’s old office. Toman played for Tanner at North Carolina State and later worked alongside him there and at USC.
“He taught me all I know about baseball,” Toman said in his video tribute, after the first inning. “He’s a mentor to me. I owe a lot to coach Tanner. He’s like a big brother to me.”