Baseball

Columbia Fireflies open new ballpark with win over Greenville

Time lapse: Watch ballpark fill up for 1st Columbia Fireflies game

The Columbia Fireflies had its inaugural game in the the new Spirit Communications Park Thursday. The fans filled the seats to watch their new team play the Greenville Drive.
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The Columbia Fireflies had its inaugural game in the the new Spirit Communications Park Thursday. The fans filled the seats to watch their new team play the Greenville Drive.

Past all the spectacle, the fireworks, the parachuters landing on the field before the game, the gleaming ballpark, you got to the heart of Thursday night’s scene at Spirit Communications Park.

Just a baseball game, pure and simple, on a cool spring night.

The Columbia Fireflies christened their brand new ballpark with a 4-1 victory against Greenville in the team’s home opener. It marked the return of minor league ball to the city for the first time in more than a decade.

“It means a lot,” Fireflies manager Jose Leger said. “I like the way the city has responded, how we’ve been getting fans. This is the first game and it was unbelievable. It was 9,000 fans. We’ve even seen fans coming to practice because that first day we practiced here, there were more than 1,000 fans.

“So I’m very happy and glad the city’s enjoying it.”

In front of 9,077, well above the threshold for a sellout, Columbia pitcher P.J. Conlon (1-0) struck out five and allowed one run in six innings to earn the win.

The Fireflies (5-3) pulled ahead early when Kevin Kaczmarski raked a triple to plate Ivan Wilson in the first. Kaczmarski came home on Vinny Siena’s sacrifice fly, but a Roldani Baldwin RBI single for Greenville (4-4) in the second cut the lead in half. Conlon and the bullpen held onto the slim lead most of the night, and Columbia finally pushed through a pair of insurance runs in the eighth.

Actually reaching the home opener was a nice step for a team was working to get the finishing touches in place

The large crowd provided an early test for the staff. The players had arrived soon after spring training wrapped up, and almost as quickly as they arrived, set off on a season-opening roadtrip.

Siena said those early days were spent making calls and nailing down living arrangements. Some of the players turned around from Wednesday game at Rome and had to move into their apartments upon returning to Columbia.

“On the way to the ballpark (Thursday), I was riding with David Thompson and Vinny Siena,” Conlon said. “We were kind of saying, it feels like our season kind of starts tonight. We already had the seven games, but everyone was looking forward to this first game here.”

The team was even making personnel moves late, as it released the news midway through the game outfielder Vicente Lupo was put in the disabled list and outfielder Tucker Tharp came off it.

Thursday night delivered about everything the teams could ask for. A big crowd filtered into the new ball park. Mayor Steve Benjamin tossed out a first pitch, bouncing it just in front of home plate. The team picked up its fourth win in a row.

And the players, all young fighting to carve out careers, got the experience of opening a new park, something even their manager did for the first time.

“We kind of heard a buzz about it last year that they were setting everything up and getting it going,” said Siena, who played at Connecticut in college and Coney Island last year. “This is my first full season. So to play here is pretty awesome.

“Pictures don’t do it justice. It’s unbelievable.”

Sights and sounds from the Columbia Fireflies' inaugural game in the the new Spirit Communications Park Thursday. The fans filled the seats to watch their new team play the Greenville Drive.

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