Greenville's Sports Calendar Offers College Football and Basketball, Minor League Baseball and Even Ice Hockey

By:Bob Gillespie

Date:12/2/2015

For relaxed, family summertime entertainment, few activities rival a balmy night at the ballpark – especially a park modeled on one of the nation’s bastions of baseball tradition, Boston’s Fenway Park.

That’s what the Greenville Drive, the Boston Red Sox’s Class A team in the South Atlantic League, is perhaps best known for: Fluor Field, a mini-Fenway with its own “Green Monster” wall in left field with the relaxed vibe of minor league baseball. Get a seat behind home plate, a hot dog and a cold beer: What could be better?

Greenville Drive general manager Eric Jarinko says that’s what draws Upstate South Carolina sports fans – and tourists to the area as well – to his park, and his city.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a city with the charm and offerings of Greenville,” the team executive says. “It’s got a big-city feel with things like the Peace Center, but a small-town feel with (the lack of) traffic.

“And you could eat at a different downtown restaurant every day for three months,” including three – Purple Sushi, Liberty Tap Room and Compadre’s Mexican Grill and Cantina – located at Fluor Field.

On Greenville’s busy sports calendar, the Drive is the summer attraction. In the fall, Furman University of the Southern Conference draws around 20,000 fans to home games at Paladin Stadium, while about 30 minutes away, Clemson University, a perennial Top 25 Atlantic Coast Conference team, plays before crowds of 80,000-plus in Memorial Stadium, aka “Death Valley.”

When winter arrives, there’s Furman and Clemson basketball and, for those used to colder climes, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits (formerly Road Warriors) of the East Coast Hockey League, playing in Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

Since debuting in 2005, the Drive has been a vital part of the local social calendar. “We partner with the local hotels, who are all season-ticket holders,” Jarinko says. Northeast visitors are drawn by the team’s Red Sox affiliation; that’s why the Drive maintains a large promotion at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport’s baggage claim area.

With 4,500 permanent seats, Fluor Field averages better than 5,000 attendance for Drive games – “an SRO (standing-room-only) crowd most nights,” Jarinko says. But it’s less about baseball than about a family night out, at an affordable price.

“Our biggest competitors are the movie theaters, so we target the moms,” he says. “Our mission is to be a part of the fabric of the community. In 10 years, we haven’t increased ticket prices ($10), so a family of four can come, eat and see the game, for about $50.”

Similarly, the Swamp Rabbits, who moved to Greenville from Johnstown, Pa., in 2010, are about family fun. Averaging 3,600 fans in 2014-15, the team begins its 36-game home schedule each October and the season runs into April.

“We think we’re an essential piece of the sports landscape,” General Manager Chris Lewis says. “We offer a sport with nonstop action, and the show we put on is major-league entertainment at a minor-league price.”

Also like the Drive, the Swamp Rabbits are affiliated with an iconic NHL franchise, the New York Rangers, another draw for tourists. “We see a lot of Northern city NHL jerseys in the arena,” Lewis says. “Even if you don’t know hockey that well, you know the Rangers.”

It could get cozy when the Swamp Rabbits share space with Clemson, which will play 16 home games in Bon Secours in 2015-16 while their home Littlejohn Coliseum is being renovated. “This definitely was No. 1 on the list for a lot of reasons: the fact we have great alumni support here, the fact Greenville is a hub for a lot of Clemson activity,” says Clemson athletics director Dan Radakovich. “We see a lot of potential to see if we can make that partnership work …We’re very excited about it.”

“We’re excited about playing in Greenville, and hopefully we can attract some new fans to Clemson,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell says.

Lewis isn’t concerned about the Tigers and Swamp Rabbits having schedule conflicts. “We can do a doubleheader, noon and 7:30, if need be,” he says. For a busy sports calendar, and sports-hungry visitors, that might be the ideal solution.

For more on area sports venues and teams, visit www.UpcountrySC.com or www.visitgreenvillesc.com.

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