Baseball

Other than winning, Fireflies 2017 season was unforgettable

Tim Tebow takes a selfie with fans after his last game with the Columbia Fireflies.
Tim Tebow takes a selfie with fans after his last game with the Columbia Fireflies. online@thestate.com

The Columbia Fireflies closed their 2017 home schedule this week. The results on the field could have been better, but this could have been the most successful season in minor league baseball for Columbia.

A record 315,034 fans – the team recorded seven sellouts this season – poured in to Spirit Communications Park to see many memorable moments. It started on Opening Night and continued through the team’s Purple Night 2.0, which they celebrated on the final home game of the season on Thursday.

The Fireflies nearly won the first half of the South Atlantic League season, but faltered in the season half after many of their top players were promoted in the New York Mets minor league system. After Thursday’s game, they were 67-67 on the season.

“The 2017 season was memorable for the Columbia Fireflies on many fronts,” team President John Katz said. “From Tebow time to the Total Eclipse of the Park – and everything in between – we were able to share the spring and summer with more than 315,000 fans this season. Watching generations of fans come together at Spirit Communications Park is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.”

Here are five memorable moments from the season:

Tebow mania

The former NFL and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Florida began his professional baseball career in a Fireflies uniform. In 64 games with Columbia, Tebow hit .220 with three homers runs and 23 RBIs before being promoted to St. Lucie. Many will remember Tebow’s first career at-bat – a home run to left-center field that left the crowd buzzing.

Total Eclipse of the Park

A record 9,629 fans poured into Spirit Communications Park to witness the eclipse over Columbia. Players and fans were able to view the totality unobstructed. As darkness fell over the midafternoon sky in Columbia, the game was delayed as fans were treated to a sight that will be remembered for a lifetime.

All-Star game

The festivities battled weather concerns, but Katz and his group hosted the SAL All-Star game in July. The Home Run Derby and All-Star game were memorable, but the Celebrities vs. Soldiers softball game could have been the highlight of the two days.

Number retirement ceremony for Brett Williams

The White Knoll High baseball standout passed away in January after battling an illness. The Fireflies honored Williams by retiring his jersey and presenting a framed jersey to his parents in a pregame ceremony.

Military homecoming

Staff Sgt. Eukenya Joel Lewis was reunited with his wife, Priscila, and children, Kayla and Joel, after six months. The family watched a video of Lewis on the video board before throwing out the first pitch. Unknowing to them, Lewis was the catcher and surprised his family by coming home 20 days early.

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