Minor league baseball is more than just the action on the field. In fact, it’s the action on the sidelines that draws many non-sports fans to the sporting event.
Entertainment is the name of the game in the minors, and South Carolina has four of the nation’s best venues for watching the future stars of major league baseball – or simply getting out with the family for an affordable and fun-filled evening at the park.
The newest of the state’s ball yards is Columbia’s Spirit Communications Park, which opened in 2017 and was the first pro baseball “home” for former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
South Carolina's other three baseball venues are Fluor Field in Greenville, BB&T Coastal Field in Myrtle Beach and Joseph P. Riley Park in Charleston. All four ballparks are home to Class A baseball teams: the Fireflies; The Greenville Drive, a Boston Red Sox franchise; the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, part of the Chicago Cubs organization and South Carolina's only Carolina League member (the other three teams are in the South Atlantic League); and the Charleston RiverDogs, a New York Yankees farm team.
The Drive offers an urban baseball experience, since Fluor Field – a cozy stadium built to resemble the Red Sox’s iconic Fenway Park – is located in Greenville’s West End, easy walking distance from several downtown hotels. The surrounding area’s warehouses remind fans of the view from Baltimore’s Camden Yards, and the rooftop and balcony seating at nearby condos has the feel of Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
The Drive won their first SAL title in 2017 and the President’s Award as minor league baseball’s franchise of the year in 2018. In the summer, a pleasant stroll through Greenville’s downtown will get you to Fluor Field, or take a shuttle running the length of Main Street.
The minor-league experience, while different at each South Carolina ballpark, has common elements: munching on hot dogs and peanuts, sipping a cold beer or other icy beverage, enjoying family-themed entertainment ranging from clownish mascots to fan competitions, and occasional chances to win prizes or money. It’s a throwback to simpler times: warm evenings with parents and kids enjoying America’s favorite pastime.
This summer, take the kids out to a ballgame and remember what it was like to be a kid yourself.
Columbia Fireflies stats
Where: Spirit Communications Park in downtown Columbia’s BullStreet district
Don’t miss: The Budweiser bar, located behind center field, lets fans grab a beverage and sit at bar-top seats along the outfield wall without missing any of the baseball action. The Centerfield Concourse, with lawn games including corn hole, is another favorite spot, especially during Thirsty Thursday promotions. Behind home plate, the Low ‘N Slow BBQ cart is a popular stop.
Just for kids: The SCU Kids Zone is located on the left-field concourse and features a two-story inflatable of Mason (as in mason jar), the Fireflies mascot. The zone also includes an inflatable slide and bouncy house and other things to keep kids entertained.
Extra stuff: Craft beer lovers will enjoy Craft Corner on the right-field line, serving a variety of beers including the Fireflies’ own Luminescent Lager, brewed by local River Rat Brewing. For a sit-down meal, step next door to the Bone-In Barbecue restaurant, part of the growing BullStreet district. The Club Lounge, upstairs behind home plate, is a 7,000-square foot venue that can host weddings and other non-baseball events. If you can’t make it to a baseball game, you can still enjoy the venue, which has been designated as a public park. Visitors are welcome to bring their lunch and eat outside or get in some exercise walking the concourse. One lap is about a third of a mile.
Greenville Drive stats
Where: Fluor Field at the West End in downtown Greenville
Don’t Miss: Not surprisingly for a Boston Red Sox franchise, Fluor Field is built to resemble Boston’s Fenway Park, with its own 30-foot high “Green Monster” in left field and “Pesky’s Pole” in right. In 2017, the Drive added 100 prime “Green Monster” seats atop the wall, part of a $1.4 million stadium upgrade.
Just for kids: Kids can’t resist the stadium play area near the entrance down the left-field line. Reedy Rip’it, the energetic frog mascot, is a big hit with kids, too.
Extra stuff: Fireworks every Friday night, and upgraded hospitality areas, including rooftop seating behind the Green Monster seats (the area can be reserved as a private venue) and The Front Porch, a lounge behind home plate for season-ticket holders.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans stats
Where: BB&T Coastal Field on 21stAvenue North, just across the street from the Broadway at the Beach entertainment complex
Don’t Miss: Deuce, the ballpark’s famed yellow lab, known for delivering a basket of balls to the umpire and running the bases after games, retired after the 2018 season. But never fear: Slider, also a yellow lab, is now carrying out the ball-fetching and base-running duties.
Just for kids: Kids can’t get enough of the Pelicans’ two mascots: Splash, a pelican who serves as the official team mascot and loves to clown around and pose for selfies with fans, and Rally Shark, who also enjoys engaging with fans of all ages. After every home game, kids are invited to run the bases with Splash, Rally Shark and, starting in 2019, Slider.
Extra stuff: This being Myrtle Beach, the left field area features its own version of the Grand Strand beach with lounge chairs and room for 120. The Pelicans became a Cubs franchise in 2015 and a “Cubsification” of the stadium incorporated all things Chicago. Those include Grissom Plaza, its version of Wrigleyville; a brick outfield wall and the famous Wrigley Field sign; and Chicago-style food venues, including a Windy City Wieners cart and the Clark and Addison Grill (named for the streets that cross at Wrigley Field), featuring Grace’s Grilled Chicken, the Ron Santo Italian Sausage, the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance veggie tray and a “Chicago deep-dish” burger between two pizzas.
Charleston RiverDogs stats
Where: The Joe (officially called Joseph P. Riley Park) on the waterfront of the Ashley River near The Citadel
Don’t Miss: No surprise in foodie city Charleston, the ballpark food is something special. The Travel Channel’s Adam Richman once tried to consume the Home-Wrecker hot dog as part of his “Man vs. Food” gig. Another favorite is the Pig on a Stick, a foot-long, bacon-wrapped corndog. Each year, the RiverDogs add a new food item.
Just for kids: Sunday is always Family Sunday, when families can play catch in the outfield before the game. You’ll also find face painting stations and inflatable play areas on the concourse at every home game.
Extra stuff: Every Saturday features a different event, from fans playing catch to home-run derbies for high school players. But the most popular Saturday event is the monthly Helicopter Ball Drop, when a helicopter drops 3,000 colored, numbered rubber balls onto second base; each fan receives a number (1-3,000) when entering the stadium, and the fan with the same number as the closest ball to home plate wins $1,000. If there’s no winner, the prize rolls over to the next month and is worth $2,000 and so on.