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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The University of South Carolina Aiken is one of the newer campuses in the University of South Carolina system. It originally served as an entry point for residents of the Aiken area who wanted to go on to earn their undergraduate degrees at USC’s main campus in Columbia. Eventually the demand exceeded the space available in Columbia and it was decided to form a local campus, which opened in September 1961. USC Aiken had humble beginnings as the original class of 1961 had three full-time faculty members and 130 students. It originally met in a downtown office building.
Today, USC Aiken has more than 3,500 students, meeting in more than 20 academic buildings on a 453-acre campus. It has been an autonomous member of the South Carolina University system since 1977. Though it is primarily a liberal arts school, USC Aiken offers more than 30 undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Athletics were offered in a very limited form until 1990, when USC Aiken achieved NCAA Division II status and became full members of the Peach Belt Conference. The Peach Belt Conference is primarily made up of non-football schools in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida. Augusta University is easily USC Aiken’s biggest rival, as only the Savannah River and 20 miles separate the two campuses. All athletic teams play under the name Pacers, as Aiken is famous as an equestrian community. The term Pacer refers to a horse bred and trained to race in harness or sulky races. Aiken hosts its own Triple Crown Series each spring.
USC Aiken has had a baseball program since 1977, and has called Roberto Hernandez Stadium its home since 2003. It has been a daunting place for visiting teams to play, as the Pacers boast nearly a .700 winning percentage on their home turf. The stadium was made possible by a major financial contribution by former USC Aiken baseball player and major leaguer Roberto Hernandez. The 1,000-seat stadium offers many amenities not usually found in a Division II facility. All seats are chair back and 85% of them are covered by a roof, which is extremely important considering the broiling hot sun of late spring. The stands look out over a natural grass field which includes a state of the art scoreboard with a message center. Other amenities include clubhouse facilities for both teams, a radio broadcast booth separate from the press box and recently upgraded concession areas.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concession area is housed in the same building as the restrooms and the Roberto Hernandez/USC - Aiken Hall of Fame. It is located on the outer concourse so you may miss some game action while grabbing some goodies.
The stand's signature dish is the Pacer Dog (a ¼ lb monster covered with chili and slaw that sells for $4). Another specialty of the house is the BBQ Beef Brisket sandwich covered with onions, cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce that also sells for $4. Other items available include nachos ($4), Chick-fil-A sandwiches ($4), a plain hot dog or a funnel cake will set you back $3 and popcorn, peanuts and candy are each $2. Beverages go for $2 for either a fountain soda or bottled water.
Alcoholic beverages are not sold at Roberto Hernandez Stadium.
It is apparent even before you enter the stadium that USC Aiken has a proud baseball heritage and is going to provide the best possible facilities for its athletes.
As you approach the stadium from the parking area you enter a large fan plaza shaded by palm trees, something you would usually expect to see at a major league spring training facility. The stadium itself has an external façade of red brick with a handsome black iron fence surrounding the inner courtyard. In the center of the plaza is a building containing the concessions area, restrooms, and the Roberto Hernandez Hall of Fame room.
Once inside the seating area you will ease into a chair back seat, complete with cup holders and a nice amount of legroom. The stands wrap around the backstop and extend out to each dugout. The center two sections of the stands are completely covered by a roof, with only the two sections adjacent to the dugouts being exposed to the sun. Protective netting extends completely around the seating area. In general you have a great view of the field of play; however the roof does come with one drawback. There are four support beams holding up the roof in the front, so there will be some obstructed views. The beam placement is mainly lined up directly in front of an aisle, so this is not a major issue.
Hernandez Stadium is located adjacent to the USC Aiken campus. It shares its parking with the equally modern Convocation Center, site of Pacer basketball, volleyball, concerts, and graduations. The academic campus is directly across Hwy 118 from the sports facilities. Recently the university has erected a lighted pedestrian crossing system at the busy highway making access to the campus much safer. The campus is well worth a visit, as it is heavily landscaped, has a number of beautiful fountains, and a lovely quad with a canopy of trees to protect you from the sun and heat. The USC Aiken campus is located about five miles from downtown Aiken.
The Aiken area is a very popular tourist destination due to its importance in the horse racing world. There are more than 10 stables in and around the area, and most are open to the public. Aiken is also well known for being an art and foodie destination. The world of art, food, and horses all comes together each April in the Horses and Courses Art Festival. All of the galleries in town work with the eateries to offer a food and art progressive dinner, featuring equestrian art of course. Aiken is also famous for its many antebellum homes, which are open for tours.
Among the restaurants of note are Betsy's on the Corner, Buckwheat BBQ, and the Aiken Brewing Company Grille and Bar. Almost every hotel franchise has a location in the Aiken area.
The fact that USC Aiken ever became a college is a testament to the intense local support the school experiences in the community. The citizens of Aiken lobbied for years to have a college located in their city, and once they were granted a division status of the main campus in Columbia, they again lobbied successfully to become an autonomous school within the South Carolina University System.
This "can do" attitude extends to its athletic teams. The stadium holds 1,000 seated fans with plenty of standing room on the perimeter of the field. Most Division II baseball stadiums only average 500-800 seats. A Pacers home game will usually bring a 70/30 split of attendees from the student body/community. Two other members of the Peach Belt Conference, Lander University and Augusta University, are less than an hour's drive from Aiken so the school rivalries are very intense, and the visitors travel well.
USC Aiken is easily accessed via I-20. It is located 18 miles east of the Georgia/South Carolina state line and 60 miles west of Columbia, SC. The closest exit from I-20 is exit 11. You will only need to navigate three red lights and one railroad crossing before reaching the campus. Parking is plentiful and free in the Convocation Center parking lot located off Robert Bell Parkway (Hwy 118). Once at the stadium you will have plenty of room to navigate the fan plaza and meet up with friends.
Tickets to USC Aiken games are $5 for adults and $4 for children under 12, and seniors. The parking is plentiful and free. The concessions are reasonably priced, as is area lodging ($50-$130). Aiken is a lovely town to visit, especially in the spring and during racing season. USC Aiken can easily be done as a day trip from either Augusta or the state capital of Columbia.
The Roberto Hernandez Hall of Fame room is a "must see" when attending a Pacers game. The room features exhibits on USC Aiken's rich baseball heritage and also features many pieces of memorabilia from Roberto Hernandez's long major league career. Aiken is the equestrian capital of the South. There are shops, restaurants and other attractions throughout the town with a horse theme. If you are short on time, the best and most informative place to visit is the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum.
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159 Laurens St NW
Aiken, SC 29801
651 Silver Bluff Rd
Aiken, SC 29803
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