Sunday, August 16, 2015

Charleston RiverDogs 5 at Greenville Drive 8 (South Atlantic League) - August 15, 2015

In 2005, the Capital City Bombers moved from Columbia to Greenville, SC, playing a single season at Greenville Municipal Stadium before moving to a brand new ballpark, West End Field, for the 2006 season. The franchise also changed their name to Drive in honour of the region's automotive past. Over the last decade, as Greenville became one of America's fastest-growing cities, its downtown ballyard became a premier minor league destination. In 2008, multinational firm Fluor, a major employer in the city, bought the naming rights and the stadium has since been known as Fluor Field at the West End.

As it is located right downtown, parking can be tricky unless you get there early. I arrived over an hour before first pitch and had no trouble finding a spot a couple of blocks away on Main Street, but should you be running behind schedule, there is free parking at County Square and a shuttle to transport you to the stadium. Otherwise, there are a number of $5 lots in the area. You will notice a brick building above; on the corner is the Liberty Tap Room, a great place to stop before or after the game with several local craft brews on tap.

The ticket windows and team shop are located in a separate building next to the main left field entrance. Tickets range from $7 for lawn seats to $10 for boxes on game day, but you can save $1 by buying in advance. Note that protective netting is in front of all box seats, so if you want an unobstructed view, you'll have to buy the $9 reserved seats (blue sections below). The red benches further down the line are known as reserved terrace and cost $8.

The view from right field:

The left field lawn area, which is quite popular and a great spot for foul balls:

As the franchise is the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, it is only fitting that its new stadium be as similar to Fenway Park as possible. Not only are the dimensions identical, but there is a Green Monster in left field, though it is only 30 feet high compared to 37 feet in Boston. The building behind has a terrace from which residents can watch the game.

The concourse is spacious and provides a view of the field. There are several good concession options at reasonable prices, with a hot dog only $2.50 and well worth the price. There are also calzones and baked ziti for $5. The small soda is also $2.50, one of the cheapest I have seen on my travels, though lids and straws are not provided. Along the concourse there is the Verizon Power Alley where you can charge your phones and other devices while looking at Verizon products.

The upper rows (K and higher) of the box seats are covered by a roof, something to keep in mind should rain be in the forecast, as it was on this night. You can also see how the netting reaches to the end of the dugout in the shot below.

There are a number of historical displays around, including descriptions of past Greenville area teams on the pillars around the concourse and the 500 Club, a beautiful outdoor bar along the right field line.

Finally, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson is a legend here in Greenville and there is a museum dedicated to him just steps from the ballpark. The building, moved from its original location 3 miles away, was his last residence before he died in 1951 and it houses a wealth of memorabilia from his playing days. It is only on Saturdays between 10am-2pm or you can make an appointment.

Here in Greenville, they've captured the ideal minor league ballpark, not only in design, but in action.  During the game, there are few distractions, just the chatter of the crowd and the sounds of the game. Of course, there is a mascot, a few promotions, and Sweet Caroline (also the name of an ice cream stand) is sung during the middle of the 8th, but these do not take away from the game as in Charleston. A really wonderful experience that should be added to any baseball fan's list of ballparks to visit.

The Game

Speaking of Charleston, it was the RiverDogs in town so we had a battle of the baby Yankees and baby Red Sox. First though, the rain made an appearance, delaying the game by 55 minutes.

When things got underway, Jordan Foley (5th, 2014, above) started for Charleston while Jeffry Fernandez took the hill for Greenville. The RiverDogs struck first when Angel Aguilar led off with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a single by Vicente Conde (9th, 2014) and scored on a sacrifice fly from Bo Thompson (13th, 2014).

Greenville managed an unearned run in the bottom of the frame when Yoan Moncada (signed to a record-setting deal in March out of Cuba and now Boston's top prospect, above) walked, stole second, stole third and scored on a throwing error by catcher Collin Slaybaugh (26th round, 2014). The Drive added another on a solo shot from Michael Chavis (26th overall pick in 2014, Boston's #11 prospect, below) in the third to take the lead. That was the only ball in play for Greenville in the first three innings as Foley struck out nine, though it was a laborious effort, taking 64 pitches.

Fernandez tired in the fifth and after a walk and Aguilar double, Conde hit a no doubter to make it 4-2 Charleston. Conde led off with a solo shot in the 7th to extend the lead and it looked like the RiverDogs would win easily, but their bullpen let them down. Alex Robinett (32nd, 2015) relieved Foley and pitched a perfect 6th before yielding a run in the 7th. He continued into the 8th and was shelled by a bevy of top prospects. Moncada singled and Chavis hit his second bomb of the evening to tie the game. Rafael Devers (Boston's #2 prospect) doubled to end Robinett's evening, but Dillon McNamara (27th, 2013) fared no better, giving up singles to Nick Longhi (30th, 2013) and Javier Guerra (Boston's #7 prospect) before an RBI groundout completed the comeback.

Ryan Harris (26th, 2014) pitched two scoreless innings for the win. The linescore is removed as soon as the game ends, but the final is above. Note the four errors by Charleston, three were committed by Aguilar but none of those led to a run. Meanwhile the Greenville pitchers gave up eight walks but only two of them scored as Charleston grounded into three double plays. With his two homers, Chavis earns my Player to Watch Award (yeah, giving it to a 1st-round pick is low-hanging fruit but there's not much else I can do). The Greenville squad has several of Boston's top prospects and is well worth watching as they are far better than a typical A-ball team.

Next Up

I'm going to Asheville for the final game on the first week of my trip. I'll return to New York and then be back in Charlotte on Saturday for the second instalment. As always, keep checking back for updates.



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