EXCLUSIVE TOUR: Columbia Fireflies ballpark astounds: ‘They just can’t believe that this is here’

A behind-the-scenes look at Spirit Communications Park

Spirit Communications Park is nearing completion in time for the Fireflies opening game on April 14th. This is the view from the Bojangles Berm. Spirit Communications Park will have a capacity of approximately 9,000 for baseball and 15,000 for con
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Spirit Communications Park is nearing completion in time for the Fireflies opening game on April 14th. This is the view from the Bojangles Berm. Spirit Communications Park will have a capacity of approximately 9,000 for baseball and 15,000 for con

Just more than a month from opening day, Columbia’s new minor league baseball park is nearing completion, and designers hope the facility off Bull Street will be marked by cheering at night, weddings by day and music almost any time.

The stadium - being constructed on the former S.C. State Hospital grounds - is hidden from view by mature hardwoods and an 8-foot brick wall.

The public is in for a surprise.

“Once people see this, they are going to want to come out again and again,” said Jason Freier, principal owner of Hardball Capital and the Columbia Fireflies, the Class A baseball team that will open the new park on April 14. “This ballpark and this whole development here has been happening for the last 18 months full bore, and great things are happening here.

“But because we are behind this wall that separates this campus from Bull Street, most people in the community aren’t aware of it, or only vaguely aware of it. So, everybody that comes in for a tour, there’s sort of the ‘wow moment’ where they just can’t believe that this is here.”

The owner and his staff took The State on a three-hour walk and videography tour of the ballpark. Here’s what fans can expect:

Good views from all angles

Whether you are at the entrance of Spirit Communications Park behind home plate or 400 yards away looking in from a berm over deep centerfield, the ball park’s panorama is on full display for spectators.

The field is fully visible from behind home plate. From centerfield looking in, the panorama takes in spectators at the club and suite level, the picnic area down the first base line, and the food court wrapped around both sides of home plate.

The four-story First Base Building, constructed by Hughes Development Co. between the historic Babcock Building and the Ensor Building on the former State Hospital grounds, will afford tenants an unobstructed view of the ballpark. The building also features a roof-top deck, for close outdoor viewing.

The stadium’s All-Star seating area is designated from the fifth row behind home plate up to near the stadium entrance. It extends down the first base and third base lines behind the dugouts and bullpens.

“The All-Star seats are our bread-and-butter seats and those are $10 per game,” said Brad Shank, the Fireflies executive director.

The first five rows behind home plate at ground level are called on-deck seating, and the top rows of seating in the bowl of the stadium at the entrance at home plate is the padded scout seat section.

“We call them on-deck seats because basically you’re in the on-deck circle,” Shank said. “They are 45 feet from home plate, so you’re 15-feet closer to home plate than the pitcher is.”

Taking good care of the Fireflies

The Columbia Fireflies will carry a 25-man roster. On the field, the players will have a deep and spacious dugout down the first base line with ample bat and helmet racks, protected from foul balls by strong safety netting. The dugout leads back to a carpeted locker room beneath the stands and concourse.

Inside, the Fireflies players have a breakroom that features an eating area complete with refrigerator, blending station and television. The stadium also features a weight room, trainers offices, and a hydrotherapy room for whirlpools and treatment.

There are 32 individual lockers and shower and bathroom facilities. The team manager has his own office and private bathroom. The remaining managers share shower and bathroom facilities.

Some amenities for fans and players

The home team clubhouse features an indoor, two-person batting cage with netting that can be retracted so the space can have multiple uses. “We can rent this out for birthday parties, to local organizations and for inside batting practice during the summer and winter months,” said John Katz, Columbia Fireflies president.

A tunnel beneath the outfield concourse opens up for 18-wheelers to drive through with stage equipment for concerts on the field. Two contiguous areas in right field in front of the four-story First Base Building feature a picnic pavilion and crescent patio, which can accommodate about 2,500-people between them.

The areas are sold to groups of 50 and up. They carry a one-price ticket that covers the picnic table seat, all-you-can-eat food, and non-alcoholic beverages throughout the game.

A kids zone on the third base side concourse will feature big inflatables, slides and games where kids can play during the game.

The outfield features a 1,500-square-foot high high-definition video board.

The designers tried to connect the architecture of the ballpark to the existing architecture on the State Hospital grounds. Plaques will also be erected along the concourse chronicling baseball’s history in the Capital City, including former players, Freier said.

One of the more unusual seating options in the park are the bullpen boxes, which are railed off 8-foot-by-9-foot areas that have a high-top table and four bar chairs around them. To facilitate interaction between fans and the players, the front row puts the spectators 4 to 5 feet from pitchers warming up. The area also features wait service all game.

“You’re going out to dinner at a ball game. You’ve got your own table, your own waitress and you’ve got your own area for the night. So, you can basically just have a laid-back time,” Shank said.

Because the ballpark is city-owned, residents also can come into the park from dawn to dusk, 365 days of the year, if no game or other private event is taking place. “People can come in and it’s open to the public,” Shank said. “It’s no different than Finlay Park.”

The 360-degree stadium concourse is one-third of a mile around and people can come to the park to get in their daily walk or run, or to enjoy a picnic, Shank said.

Suites, club lounge and the Broad River Balcony

The stadium has 16 second-floor suites at roughly 500 square feet each. The suites feature inlaid induction warmers to keep food hot. The suites also have under-counter refrigerators and each suite comes with 20 game tickets.

The suites open to 12 stadium chairs outside overlooking the concourse and the playing field, along with four high-bar chairs for the drink rail at the edge. Inside each suite is a sofa, big-screen television and club chairs.

The club lounge is 7,200 square feet of open banquet space on the second level suited for a 400-person dinner, or a 325-person wedding reception with space for a DJ and dance floor. The club lounge has a full bar in a back corner, allowing for a full, unobstructed view of the ballfield inside the stadium and Bull Street out the opposite windows over the front of the stadium.

The Broad River Balcony is an outdoor open loft area with access to the club lounge, but outfitted with its own bar and suited for groups of up to 120 people with a high-end buffet option.

The Food Court

The ballpark features four main concession areas throughout the concourse that also will keep 25 specialty food and beverage carts full and rolling during games. The carts will cater barbecue, Mexican cuisine, Philly cheesesteaks, cotton candy, funnel cakes and more. Other food court choices include hot dogs, corn dogs, hamburgers, pizza, pulled pork and other selections.

Executive chef Bobby Hunter will be in charge of all food preparation, overseeing the suite level kitchen, which supplies foods to all the suites. He also manages the first floor main kitchen, the backbone of the stadium’s food operation. “When we have major catering events, if something is needed in such abundance (that) the suite level kitchen can’t handle it, then it will be produced down here,” Hunter said. “This is more than a baseball park.”

Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398

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