Twelve-year-old Keith Marion has been playing baseball since he was 4. When he had a chance to get out on the field with the Columbia Fireflies Sunday afternoon, he knew he had to do it.
“I just wanted to hit one and hit one far,” Keith said. “(It was) a once in a lifetime kind of shot, to be able to get on a big field in front of a bunch of people.”
His big chance came as part of the Fireflies Fan Fest at Spirit Communications Park on Sunday. The free event drew about 2,000 people to watch the team’s first workout at the new ballpark, which is on the former S.C. State Hospital grounds off Bull Street. Among them were Keith and his father, David Marion.
“It’s a family affair, baseball,” David Marion, 32, said.
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Both father and son took a shot at Swing for Your Seats, where baseball fans who placed a 25 percent deposit on season tickets or another ticket package were able to bat from home plate. Anyone who hit a home run would have received their ticket package for free, up to $10,000.
Two other fans stepped up to the plate, but none of the four hit a home run. Still, David Marion said, it was worth taking the chance.
“I’ll never forget getting to do that with my son,” he said.
After finishing their workout, the Fireflies signed autographs. Fans presented items ranging from baseballs to journals.
For Dimitri Henderson, 29, the event was a chance to share his love of baseball with his 8-year-old twins, Damari and Damarcus.
“I remember going to see the Bombers play when I was younger,” Henderson said. “I just want them to have the experience of meeting the new team and becoming fans.”
Like the Fireflies, the Capital City Bombers Bombers were a Class A minor league team based in Columbia. The Bombers, named in honor of World War II’s Doolittle Raiders, played at Capital City Stadium on Assembly Street through the 2004 season. They then moved to Greenville and became the Drive.
The Fireflies, an affiliate of the New York Mets, previously played in Savannah, Ga., as the Sand Gnats. They open their season Thursday night at Charleston. Their first home game is April 14 against Greenville.
“This has been truly a labor of love for our organization,” Fireflies President John Katz said. “It has almost been 12 years since professional baseball called Columbia home.”