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DAVE KNACHEL | Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech closer Clark Labitan has 10 saves and leads the Hokies with a 2.83 ERA.
Friday, May 31, 2013
BLACKSBURG — How special is today? Get this: Even the closer’s dad is going to be here.
Clark Labitan’s father — also named Clark — gets a break on having never been to Blacksburg for one of his son’s baseball games. He lives in San Diego. The cost of flying across the country has been prohibitive in the five years Labitan has played for Virginia Tech.
Before today, the elder Labitan had seen his son play in college only three times — all in Florida, where he could parlay the experience into a visit with family.
That’s about to change.
“It’s history in the making,” Tech’s 5-foot-8, 175-pound right-hander said. “And he wanted to be here for that.”
He’ll have company.
There aren’t many things in sports we can truly say we’ve never seen before. Today, we get one. At 5:30 p.m., Virginia Tech baseball hosts a NCAA regional game for the first time in its history, and it ought to be quite the scene.
“It should be electric, just from what I’ve seen on Twitter and social media,” Tech shortstop Chad Pinder said. “There are going to be a bunch of people coming out. It’ll be a lot of fun to play.”
On Thursday, as the Hokies went through one last pre-tournament workout, workers put the finishing touches on temporary stands along the first base line. An auxiliary press box has been installed behind the plate. The hitting facility has been transformed into a makeshift media center to accommodate those covering Tech, Oklahoma, Coastal Carolina and UConn — the four teams hoping to advance to next week’s super regionals.
All this might have seemed absurd as little as two weeks ago, before the Hokies made a surprise run to the finals of the ACC tournament and secured one of the 16 host sites.
“I never really fathomed that we’d host,” said Labitan, who has 10 saves and leads the Hokies with a 2.83 ERA. “I always looked at other stadiums and other schools. I feel like everything’s happened so quick, within two weeks.
“The ACC championship was such a big thing for our community. We had like 5,000 fans come out from all different states, Hokie loyal. And now we’re hosting. These past few days, we’ve been here watching our field transform into a good host site, and just the fans communicating and coming out, it’s unbelievable. It’s a surreal feeling.”
Tech sports information director Dave Smith has been watching the Hokies play baseball since 1976, back when they played at Tech Park, which is now where the football practice facility stands. For 35 years, he served as the media conduit for the sport. He delegated the role in 2006, but he kept coming to games.
He saw the Hokies enjoy some fine seasons over the years — they reached 40 wins five times in the 1980s — but nothing quite like this.
“It’s exciting,” said Smith, who will be serving as Coastal Carolina’s personal guide this weekend. “I feel really good for the program. Coach [Pete] Hughes has really worked hard to get to this point. It’s just nice that our team has been rewarded with this, because they deserved it.”
Like several of his teammates, Labitan spent Sunday night refreshing the Web browser on his phone, hoping to see Tech listed as a host site. For many of the Hokies, reality didn’t set in until the following day, when they saw their regional opponents pop up on the TV screen.
“It means everything to me,” outfielder Andrew Rash said. “This is what I came here for. I always watched Clemson host regionals when I was little because I lived so close to ’em, and I wanted to do that one day, wherever I went to play college baseball. I finally did that.
“Being able to be the first team to ever do it here is unbelievable.”
History in the making.
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