Press and Media

Ballpark Digest names new stadium Baseball Park of the Year

Originally published July 26, 2016 at http://www.thestate.com/news/business/article91959082.html

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by JEFF WILKINSON

Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies, has been named Ballpark of the Year by Ballpark Digest.

“Spirit Communications Park is not only our Ballpark of the Year, it’s also one of the best ballparks opened in the last decade,” Ballpark Digest Publisher Kevin Reichard said.

In a few months, the baseball played at Columbia’s new $37-million, mostly taxpayer funded park could be augmented by football. Fireflies president John Katz told The State on Tuesday that the team is negotiating with several high school teams for single-game events this season.

The park’s right field wall stretches to 330 feet from home plate – “rather long for a minor league park,” he said – to accommodate both football and soccer fields.

“The goal is for multiple schools to play a game here,” Katz said. “And some form of soccer in the spring. It’s also designed for concerts, and we’re working on that, too.”

Reichard, in an interview with The State on Tuesday, said that the level of detail in the design gave Spirit Communications Park the feel of a Major League Baseball stadium. “There are a lot of upscale finishes in it,” he said. “Finishes are not sexy. But there are nice little touches that are better than cinderblock.”

The U.S. has about 169 affiliated minor league parks with more than 200 more independent leagues.

The magazine noted that Spirit Communications Park, which opened in April, is more than just a ballpark. It’s the centerpiece of the 181-acre Bull Street redevelopment project.

“On its own, Spirit Communications Park was planned to fit in with the rest of the remaining campus as well as new planned construction,” the magazine reported, “and, in terms of design, that means a lot of brick, as the major buildings remaining are all brick.”

The magazine noted “there are a dozen different kinds of seating in the ballpark, each with a specific audience. Behind home plate, for instance, there are four kinds of seating, including padded On-Deck seats close to the action, three rows of comfortable Scouts Seats with food and drink rails, and standard reserved seats. The ballpark works both as a stand-alone facility and something designed to look like it’s been a part of the BullStreet development area forever.”

Reichard added: “The combination of an outstanding ballpark anchoring economic development is a model for future” minor league and major league stadiums.

The Fireflies of the Class A South Atlantic League set the season record for professional baseball attendance in Columbia earlier this month – with 30 days left on the schedule at that time. So far, 181,673 fans have gone through the turnstiles of the stadium, which seats about 7,500.

“What an honor,” Katz said. “We found out via email last week that we were going to win the award. We asked them to release it early. We really wanted to be able to share that award with our community.”

To celebrate, the team will hand out 2,500 commemorative posters at the Aug. 11 game against the Greensboro Grasshoppers.