By Kent Babb
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Who says the lifespan of a Columbia Inferno T-shirt is the two seconds between leaving the metal bearings of a carbon dioxide gun and the landing in the palms of a hopeful fan?
Who says getting a T-shirt into the stands takes less work than defusing a Howard Dean campaign?
Not Jimmy James.
James, the Inferno’s sales manager, orders the shirts from a Columbia warehouse, ships them to Rock Hill for printing, unloads them from a team van and hand rolls them into tight, two-inch-thick bullets.
“There’s not that much to it,” James says. “It’s pretty easy as long as you keep going.”
It has been especially easy since the recent T-shirt shortage forced front-office officials to cut down on shirt shooting during intermissions. Earlier this season, James’ crew shot 38 per game and ran out of the season’s supply more than a month early.
Before Friday’s game against the Texas Wildcatters, with two interns at Myrtle Beach for spring break, James did it all himself. He said he started the night before and worked well into Friday in order to have plenty for that night’s game.
That’s when James’ work really begins. He first instructs team employees to perform a crash course of T-shirt gun firing etiquette for that night’s two shooters, chosen from sponsors and people who beg for the chance — like me.
The lessons cover the basics: Do not shoot the shirt directly at someone and conserve the carbon dioxide by yanking down on the trigger after firing it. One more thing: Hold on tight because Roland Woodard, who drives the golf cart with the gun attached, drives a little crazy.
“Last year, they almost killed the dog. Seriously,” says ice maintenance worker Jason Jaffe, referring to the Inferno’s mascot, Blaze. “If they didn’t see his skate, they would have run over him. He’d be dead right now.”
James rides along in the cart to make sure the shirts are evenly distributed throughout the Coliseum. It takes only a couple of seconds between pulling the trigger and a shirt landing somewhere in the scrum.
But that is the climax of a shirt’s life. James smiles a little when the cart pulls back down the ramp at the end of the intermission. He knows where those shirts have been, from the order to the pile on his desk to airborne during intermissions.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” he says afterward. “All the time it takes to get them there, and it takes only a couple minutes to shoot ’em all. It looks so easy.”