BY: MATTHEW PRESLAR
A weekend with no baseball to umpire at home, so what do you we do? We see what makes the best quick baseball road trip, of course! We looked for a multiple site stop within comfortable driving distance. This is harder than it seems as minor league schedules rarely have “next door neighbors” playing at home at the same time.
Surprisingly we ended up with three options from which to choose. With the quality of baseball on similar par, we had to look for other factors in making our decision. The single greatest aspect that clinched the decision was a very affordable hotel within walking distance of the stadium. This would allow us to base there for two nights and really relax at the game. By happenstance, this team was also hosting a single ticket double header on Saturday. The winner was a return trip to SRP Park in North Augusta, South Carolina.
The Augusta GreenJackets and SRP have a special place in our hearts. They were a 2018 highlight for us as we attended two games in the stadium’s opening weekend last year. We also liked the culture and history the area offered. Around the halfway point of our drive down to North Augusta is Columbia, SC., home of the Fireflies. Our stop at Segra Park (formorly Spirit Communications Park) was also another repeat visit as we attended games in Columbia in late 2017.
These two South Atlantic League teams both play in new facilities. Segra Park (Fireflies) is in its fourth year and SRP Park (GreenJackets) is in its second. These parks are built as part of mixed use development projects that lured franchises out of Georgia into South Carolina. While these projects take years to completely come to fruition, returning to these venues lets us see the evolution of these areas.
FRIDAY NIGHT: Columbia Fireflies at Segra Park (Columbia, SC)
After kicking off the weekend with a stop at Carowinds, we continued on our way to Segra Park, only about an hour away. As we make return visits to venues we look for improvements in the park and the surrounding area. This all figures in to the total entertainment value and ballpark experience. As we approached Segra Park, land was being cleared for “The Bullstreet District”. Signage indicates a partnership of restaurants, a community center, and even a church. As a fourth year stadium it seems a little late for ground to just now be breaking. However, this may show the Fireflies have proven themselves as a sustainable business worthy of a relationship with a wide array of assorted entities.
The stadium still features a grand entrance with beautiful brickwork and a tall staircase that teases something amazing must be going on inside. We knew the advertised promotion was a David Wright (former New York Mets All Star/Columbia minor leaguer) bobble head and we wondered what other amazing treats and stadium improvements the Fireflies had for the holiday weekend.
Aside from providing a backdrop for some beautiful photos, there seemed to be very little different or fresh from our original stop in August 2017. Even though the stadium is very large for the level, attendance was good for Low A ball standards. We really like the colors of the team: Neon Green and Blue (think Seattle Seahawks of the NFL). The Fireflies look is very unique. What made Columbia a worthwhile stop was the ticket price. Berm seats (General Admission) are only $5 with first come first serve seating in several areas around the outfield; very affordable and family friendly. This is by far the best ticket value I can recall around baseball which makes the Columbia Fireflies a great place to stop while passing through.
SATURDAY MAIN EVENT: Double Header with Augusta Greenjackets at SRP Park (North Augusta, SC)
There were many reasons to return to SRP Park...
SRP Park was still the same beautiful site we remembered. The overall development community (Riverside Village) is taking off a little quicker. The aforementioned hotel includes a roof top bar. We explored the two restaurants, Rio Cantina and Southbound Smokehouse, pregame Saturday afternoon. From both restautants you get a look at the stadium. From Southbound Smokehouse, you can actually watch the game from their outdoor patio. The Smokehouse also offers beer from Sweetwater Brewing Company, featuring Greenjackets Ale brewed especially for SRP Park. A pregame appetizer of Mexican food, tall draft beers, and BBQ nachos was an amazing way to start the day!
The games themselves were secondary to the event as a whole. It was hot as expected with a “feels like” temperature above 100. Luckily, our seats were shaded very early into the first game. For the second game of the double header, the GreenJackets wore camouflage hats and jerseys commemorating Memorial Day weekend. Based on our normal grading criteria, there was new signage reflecting playoff appearances and who Augusta was affiliated with at the time. If we do another official review of SRP Park, these additions would increase the overall score. There were also new wraps on beams around the concourse celebrating past GreenJackets who reached the major leagues. The most notable to me was current San Francisco Giant legend, Madison Bumgarner. The 17 total innings for the day made it a long and hot one, but we definitely got what we paid for. It was a great day and hopefully a trip we can continue to make annually.