Capital City Stadium then and now
A Columbia icon, a humble home to generations of baseball players and fans, soon will be demolished.
Capital City Stadium is set to be torn down within the next two months after five years of sitting stoic and unused, its painted advertisement wall a portrait of nostalgia to passing travelers on a busy Assembly Street.
Built in 1927 by Pittsburgh Pirates owner and baseball Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfuss, Capital City Stadium was a haven for minor league and college baseball for nearly 90 years. Its teams included the Columbia Comers, Columbia Reds, Capital City Bombers and, finally, the Columbia Blowfish.
“We’d been told it was going to come down a long time ago, and it didn’t, and it just seemed to have some life left in her,” said Bill Shanahan, owner of the Columbia-turned-Lexington County Blowfish team. “Capital City Stadium’s had a long, rich life.”
Shanahan also served as the general manager of the Capital City Bombers, a minor league affiliate of the New York Mets, in the 1990s.
On the night the Blowfish played the last ballgame at Capital City Stadium, a matchup with the Thomasville HiToms in the summer of 2014, Shanahan lamented the stadium’s inevitable fate, now coming to fruition.
“When you look back in your life, you remember good times and good friends, and you remember places where you were able to establish those things. Capital City Stadium is the place where that has occurred for me personally,” Shanahan told The State that night. “Walking through this ballpark, it’s like my home. It will be a very, very sad day when the bulldozers start knocking down the walls.”
Now, on the eve of an official decision to demolish the park, Shanahan said he’d like to talk with city leaders about hosting a final event at the stadium, perhaps an exhibition baseball game, for the community to say goodbye to “The Cap.”
On Tuesday, Columbia City Council is expected to approve a $136,500 contract to tear down Capital City Stadium. The demolition is expected to begin in the next two months, according to assistant city manager Missy Gentry.
City leaders have decided to finally tear down the stadium because it is becoming “an attractive nuisance,” Councilman Howard Duvall said.
“Any time you have a vacant piece of property, it’s going to attract undesirable activity,” Duvall said. “I think it would be better to clean off the property and get it ready for its future rather than to dwell on whatever nostalgia we have in the past.”
The stadium was the home of the New York Mets-affiliated Columbia Mets, later renamed the Capital City Bombers, from 1983 to 2004 before the team moved to Greenville and became the Drive.
The Blowfish, a collegiate summer league team, played at the stadium from 2006 until 2014.
The following year, the Blowfish moved to Lexington County, where the team still plays. Another year later, Columbia christened a sparkling new ballpark for its first minor league team since the Bombers, the Fireflies.
Capital City Stadium has stood unused for the past five years while a developer has considered building a commercial project there, at different times rumored to include a Walmart or a Kroger grocery store.
But in its prime years decades earlier, the stadium was a starting point for ball players beginning to glimpse their own days of glory.
Baseball greats Frank Robinson and Ted Kluszewski spent their early days playing for the Columbia Reds at Capital City Stadium. Over the years, visiting players and future stars who played on the field included Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves and Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. Last month, Rivera became the first player ever unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Long before he tallied his historic 755th home run, a young Hank Aaron stepped into Capital City Stadium as a second baseman for the Jacksonville Braves in his final minor league game. The future Hall of Fame legend went 0-for-4 from the plate in his last game before joining the big leagues. Aaron returned to Columbia for a pair of Braves’ exhibition games in the 1960s.
In 2013, with the final playing days in sight for Capital City Stadium, Aaron told The State, “I remember some great things in this ballpark. It saddens you to see old ballparks torn down.”
Demolition has been the presumed fate of Capital City Stadium for several years, since before the Blowfish played their final games on the field.
But a downturn in the retail market has delayed the plans of the prospective developer, Bright-Myers of Atlanta.
Bright-Myers has a contract with the city with the option to buy the 6-acre stadium property. That contract expires May 31, 2019, Gentry said, but it has been extended several times over the past few years.