Blowfish find a home in Lexington County

07/29/2014 12:35 AM

07/29/2014 12:36 AM

The Columbia Blowfish have found a new home.

Team owner Bill Shanahan announced Monday the Coastal Plain League team is moving to Lexington County for the 2015 season. The Blowfish will play at a newly constructed collegiate baseball stadium on Ballpark Road at the site of the old Wildcat Hollow football stadium and across the street from the recreation complex where the Dixie Youth World Series will be played Aug. 8-14.

“Lexington County is continuing to grow in population, and it’s an incredible baseball hotbed,” Shanahan said. “We just feel very excited about being a part of the growth of baseball in Lexington County.”

The Blowfish, a summer team composed of collegiate players, were forced to look for a new home when the city of Columbia sold Capital City Stadium and the surrounding land to Atlanta developer Bright-Myers for a mixed-used complex, which is expected to be anchored by a Kroger.

Shanahan worked out a deal with the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission, which got a $23 million bond approved last fall by Lexington County Council for new sports facilities and senior centers that will be paid for by a small property-tax hike.

Included in the bond was $3 million for a collegiate baseball stadium that county leaders hope will make Lexington County a regional hub for the sport at all levels. The Blowfish will serve as a primary tenant in a season that runs from late May to early August each summer.

Shanahan’s sports marketing and management company also has signed an agreement with the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission to attract other events to the ballpark year-round. He envisions both Northern and instate colleges playing tournaments in the spring, along with high school state and regional tournaments being held from February to May. High-school level travel teams also could use the facility in the summer and fall.

Randy Gibson, executive director of the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission, which will own the ballpark, said he is thrilled the Blowfish will serve as an anchor. A media event will be held at the site Tuesday at noon.

“It worked out great for us,” Gibson said. “We wanted a stadium where we could host collegiate tournaments, especially for teams up North early in their seasons, when they can’t practice or play because of the snow. We wanted it so they could come down and play some teams in the South. The agreement with the Blowfish fit right in there because their season doesn’t start until after the college season. That gave us a programming option.”

Although Shanahan views it primarily as a baseball facility, he said, “You can (host) other things, like concerts and fairs and those types of things.” He said Lexington County’s population of approximately 275,000 provides a strong base of support in an area where baseball’s popularity traditionally has been strong from the recreational to the high school level.

“We are grateful to Lexington County, which has been tirelessly working with us to bring these plans to fruition,” Shanahan said.

The team will be renamed the Lexington County Blowfish for its 10th season next year in the CPL, which features 14 teams playing in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia over a 56-game schedule, half in their home ballparks. The Blowfish have featured numerous players who attended Lexington-area high schools.

Blowfish manager Jonathan Johnson, who pitched in the major leagues, noted the Lexington-area players on the current roster and that community’s support of baseball.

“There’s great baseball in Lexington and we’re excited about being a part of it,” Johnson said. “Columbia has been a great home for the Blowfish, but having a smaller town like Lexington to support our ballclub is going to help with a more stable fan base.”

The new stadium will accommodate about 3,000 fans with bowl seating, an expanded concourse and an outfield berm. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall and be completed before the start of the 2015 CPL season.

The last regular-season game in the long history of Capital City Stadium, which has served as a home to professional teams such as the Columbia Reds and the Capital City Bombers dating to 1927, is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. between the Blowfish and the Thomasville HiToms.

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