The Columbia Blowfish are going to drop the hammer on their fans on Opening Night this season.
Hall of Fame outfielder Hank Aaron, one of the greatest home run hitters in Major League Baseball history, will throw out the first pitch May 29 in what will be the final season at Capital City Park.
It’s a fitting choice to celebrate the ballpark’s long history. In his autobiography, “I Had a Hammer,” Aaron noted that he played his final minor league game in Capital City Park in 1953 as a member of the Jacksonville Braves against the Columbia Reds in the Single A South Atlantic League playoffs.
Although he went 0-for-4 with an error that night as a 19-year-old second baseman in a 4-2 loss to the Reds, the following season would see Aaron, who is now 79, begin a storied 23-year MLB career with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers in which he would hit 755 home runs. He returned to Capital City Park with the Milwaukee Braves for a 1961 exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds.
“We’re kicking it off Opening Night and bringing back a memory that happened in 1953 with the great Hank Aaron playing on this field,” Blowfish president Bill Shanahan said. “It’s good to remind people of the great ballplayers and great teams that have played in Capital City Park over the last 80-plus years. Our goal is to provide a tribute to the memories of the great times and great people.”
This season will be the final one because the city of Columbia is selling the 5.6-acre stadium property to Atlanta-based developer Bright-Meyers, which planned to bring a Walmart to the site off Assembly Street before that deal fell through. City officials remain hopeful another anchor will be found for a retail center.
The Blowfish, a summer collegiate team in the Coastal Plain League, hope to go out with a bang before the ballpark is knocked down. Shanahan, who’s also the president of the Double-A Mobile (Ala.) BayBears, has developed a friendship with Mobile native Aaron, whose boyhood home was relocated to Hank Aaron Stadium and turned into a museum three years ago.
The first-pitch ceremony will signal the start of “Great Memories at The Cap,” a season-long salute to the minor league teams that occupied the ballpark built in 1927, from the Columbia Reds and Columbia Mets to the Capital City Bombers.
Shanahan wants to highlight former Columbia greats such as Frank Robinson and David Wright as well as opposing team greats such as Chipper Jones and Derek Jeter before locating his CPL team to a new home, which he hopes will remain in the Midlands.
“We’ve been having ongoing discussions with officials in Lexington, but nothing is solid yet,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have some good news soon.”
He also continues to search for a new manager. Former South Carolina standout and current assistant coach Brian Buscher, who led the Blowfish to their first CPL championship last summer, will not return.