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May 4, 2012

Fish Story II -- Reptar in Arkansas



He survived the trip to Auburn, which was over five hours on a bumpy bus.

Now the ride may be smoother, but there are a whole new set of concerns.

"I did a little bit of research," South Carolina third baseman LB Dantzler said on Thursday. "Apparently, you can pay to fly them on a regular plane, so I think they're fine."

The Gamecocks' newest mascot - Dantzler's pet betta fish named Reptar - has become the darling of the baseball program over the past three weeks, ever since it was revealed that Dantzler, fearful of leaving the fish at home alone, took him on the team's trip to Auburn. USC swept the series, inspiring a craze; Reptar was in the dugout and around the offices for the team's home series against Alabama, and USC also swept.

Nobody's foolish enough to mess with a winning streak, so the fish will be along for this weekend's trip to Arkansas. The Gamecocks usually only fly to one series per year, and Arkansas is always the plane series since it's so far away.

But what to do with the fish?

Dantzler talked to director of operations Kyle Lipsey and since the flight was chartered, it wasn't a huge problem. The logistics seemed simple - Reptar would have a temporary home in a small Tupperware container that would hold the water in, before moving to his splash-likely traveling case once the plane lands.

The burning question was - can fish survive at 30,000 feet?

"Christian (Walker) did some research and said they're from Thailand or Taiwan, somewhere like that," Dantzler said, pointing out that the fish had to get to the U.S. someway. "I think he'll be fine."

Reptar was the inspiration for a Twitter hashtag (#FearTheFish) during the Auburn series and a T-shirt with the same slogan once the team returned. A rap video and Reptar's personal Twitter feed (@fearthefish20) were launched this past week.

Yes, it's silly, and yes, it's ridiculous to think that a fish small enough to fit in one's palm is causing the Gamecocks' present 11-game SEC winning streak.

But if USC stops promoting it, or the fish quits coming to games, and the Gamecocks start losing - well, nobody wants to go there.

"I've always said that the biggest problem I've had in this game is I probably haven't had enough fun," said coach Ray Tanner, who was extremely strict when he first took over. A heart-to-heart with then-assistant coach Jim Toman caused Tanner to relax a bit and ease restrictions on facial hair and some of the antics in the dugout - free spirit (and ace pitcher) Michael Roth came along a few years ago and made it a complete 180 from the way it used to be.

Tanner saw the fish on the Auburn bus and stayed out of it. Once the story went public and the Gamecocks had won, he was OK with it. Even if Reptar will be sharing a plane seat with him to Arkansas.

"Especially during Roth's tenure, I've learned to accept that a little bit," Tanner said. "The deal is to keep the fish alive and not turn it into a fish stick."

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