Columbia’s new baseball team moving up from Savannah
BY CHUCK CRUMBO
The South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets will be playing next spring in Columbia’s new $37 million Spirit Communications Park.
The Single-A team, owned by Atlanta-based Hardball Capital, is being moved from Savannah, Ga., where local officials decided against building a new stadium.
“We’re extremely excited to be able to continue our partnership with the New York Mets and bring a tradition of quality baseball and first-class affordable, family entertainment to the Midlands,” Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier said during Thursday’s news conference at the ballpark’s construction site.
The team will finish the current season in Savannah where it is known as the Sand Gnats.
When it opens the 2016 season in Columbia, the team will have a new nickname, logo and colors. The nickname, which Freier said would be “fun, local and unique” is being picked from more than 2,000 submissions offered by area fans.
The team will be the primary tenant of Spirit Park, which will serve as the centerpiece of the 165-acre Columbia Common development that’s planned for the former State Hospital campus on Bull Street near downtown.
“We’re very excited because not only is today about welcoming minor league baseball back to the city of Columbia, it’s about celebrating the new spirit of energy and enthusiasm sweeping across our city like never before,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. “Something special is happening in Columbia and this team is a big part of it.”
For the Mets, Thursday’s announcement marks the second time it has had a minor league team in Columbia. From 1983 through 2004 the Mets were affiliated with the Columbia Mets and Columbia Bombers.
“We are excited about returning to Columbia where we had a presence over two decades,” said Sandy Alderson, general manager of the New York Mets who spent part of his childhood in Sumter when his father was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base. “So many of the top Mets stars, like current team captain David Wright, got their start in Columbia.”
Having an opportunity to play in a new ballpark in a capital city will be a plus for players and the Mets, Alderson added.
“The plans for Spirit Communications Park look spectacular and we can’t wait to develop the next generations of Mets major leaguers here,” Alderson said.
As a member of the SAL, the new Columbia team will face in-state rivals Charleston River Dogs and Greenville Drive as well as regional teams like the Augusta Greenjackets, Greensboro Grasshoppers and Rome Braves.
Freier also introduced the Columbia team’s new president, John Katz, a 23-year veteran of running minor league teams.
“I’m excited to help bring professional baseball back to the Capital City, and we are looking forward to enjoying everything the Midlands has to offer – such as the wonderful culture, music scene and the arts,” said Katz, who has served more than five seasons as president of the Savannah club.
Through the summer, Hardball Capital also will be staffing up its Columbia operation. Freier said the team plans to have about 30 full-time staffers on the payroll by Opening Day in 2016.