One of the coolest things about minor league baseball is all the attached history. Clubs become part of the fabric of a city, and can hold the same affiliation for decades. It is not too often, though, that a club's history spans two states and three cities like that of the Greenville Drive.
The club got its start in Shelby, North Carolina, in the late 1970s as a Reds affiliate, then carried their eventual Mets affiliation to Columbia, South Carolina, in 1983. After 20-plus years in Columbia and affiliations with the Mets and Red Sox, the team was moved to a new park in Greenville, built after the Braves ended their affiliation to move to Pearl, Mississippi. The Drive (named for the city's automotive history and association with BMW and Michelin) wheeled into Greenville in 2005, spending a year in the old Greenville Municipal Stadium before opening Fluor Field. The park that made the Braves leave and drew such disagreement in the city now leads the charge in a revitalized downtown Greenville.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
For a park with a minimal amount of concession areas, Fluor Field is quite the pleasant surprise. There are two "all-purpose" stands on the main concourse, and these stands sell all of the normal ballpark favorites. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, regular - and specialty - hot dogs, brats, and sausages are all available, along with family packs. Prices are all rather reasonable, including the hot dog family pack, which gives the purchaser four hot dogs, four soft drinks, and a tub of popcorn for $14.
There are also concessions for pizza and pasta, barbecue, Subway sandwiches, and ice cream to go with the 500 Club, which is an open-air bar down the right field line. Boiled peanuts are also available here, as in most ballparks in the region. The main stands appeared to be manned by volunteers, so it may pay to be a bit patient when placing your order. Lines were processed at a reasonable pace, though, and even the process of getting a wristband for beer - if that's your thing - seemed somewhat painless.
This is the one place where the park unfortunately turns a bit "minor league". There is a superfan who goes by the moniker of Baseball Guy, and he wanders the stands to lead the crowd in various cheers, take pictures, and interact with people. He also occasionally changes wardrobes throughout the game, showing off an interesting array of hats. He seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, but this was focused much more toward the kids in the crowd, or at least to those who wanted to participate in choreographed cheers.
Many more of the activities seemed to be focused on that same group, as there was an on-field emcee who led the between-innings contests, the singing/dancing of "YMCA", and the ridiculously overdone sing-along of "Sweet Caroline". Greenville is a history-rich area (look no further than the historical marker for "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's home right outside the first-base gates), and I wish they had focused more on their own traditions than those of their parent club.
These things aside, there is a really cool vibe to this park. As previously mentioned, it is part of a downtown revitalization project, and there are condos overlooking the field that are also part of the project. There were fans watching from the balconies of the condos, as well as the roof. This gave the park a "big city" feel, and the slick game day operation followed that same narrative.
The location of Fluor Field puts you in the lap of a ton of entertainment options in Greenville. There are a number of bars and restaurants within a short walk of the park. Brick Street Cafe is virtually across the street from the park and seemed to be quite popular, and there is a Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant within walking distance, among many others.
Despite Greenville's somewhat small population, there are opportunities to dine, party and sleep it all off at your convenient disposal. Your search for postgame activities can be as short or as long as you wish.
The fans actually in attendance (over 5000 strong) get a five-star rating for their performance. They were involved in every pitch and were extremely vocal. They supported their team - some understandably crossing the "homer" line - from the cheap seats to the lawn and points beyond. This makes the previously-mentioned choreographed cheers a bit more of an intrusion, as the fans seemed to need no urging to make noise and root on their hometown nine.
The real letdown was the large number of open season ticket seats, leaving a huge gap in the seating bowl. It seems to be a questionable decision to purchase season tickets that go unused, particularly in an environment such as this. Fluor Field is a place people should attend, especially on weekend and promotional giveaway nights when more fans will be in the seats. These empty seats - and the constant enforcement of their availability by the ushers when it was clear the ticket holders would not show up - provided a bit of a disappointment.
If your travels lead you to Greenville, be sure to avoid the same mistake I made on my first visit here. I was not aware of all of the available parking options, and ended up parking in a bar parking lot for $5. This is completely unnecessary, as free parking is available at Greenville County Square mere blocks from the park. There is a reasonable walk from your car door to the park, but free trolley rides will also take you to and from the first-base gates.
There are several modes of entry and exit around downtown Greenville, so let your GPS be your guide. Save yourself the trouble of paying for parking at a service station, bar, or other establishment and enjoy the short walk (or trolley ride) from the square.
Tickets are amazingly cheap at Fluor Field, with box seats a tremendous value at $8. Lawn seats are $5, terrace reserved (bleachers) are $6, and reserved are $7. Combine this with the value I discussed in concessions and parking, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better value in the South Atlantic League. This is the good news.
The bad news is that this is not really a park you want to attend on a whim. Game day ticket purchases add an extra dollar to any seat you choose. There is also a $3.50 processing fee for online ticket purchases, making that seemingly great ticket value a bit more expensive. There is also a quite ridiculous $1 fee to print tickets at home, or a $2 charge to leave them at will-call.
Walking up to the gate can also prove problematic, as weekend dates in Greenville are very busy. This can leave only lawn seating as an option, and the limited lawn space may leave you standing throughout the game. One would expect the team to make fans aware of this when purchasing tickets, but the message does not always get passed along. This is a popular park, and the club knows this, so be smart when planning your trip to see a game.
The quality of baseball on the field is well worth your entertainment dollar, as the Drive are the Red Sox affiliate in the South Atlantic League. A number of greats and top prospects have graced the playing surface here during the club's short existence, something that is noted in signage around the park.
Though it seems I have spent most of the column talking about the nice features at Fluor Field, there are some more things that deserve mention. One of them has already come up in earlier discussion, as there are condos integrated into the experience just beyond the Fenway-like green wall. It is tremendously rare to see this kind of arrangement in a minor league city, but this is a pretty cool nod to the fact that the park is essentially shoehorned into its area of Greenville's downtown.
As one might guess, the Upstate region of South Carolina gets quite hot in the summer, and the Drive have you covered in that aspect, as well. There are ceiling fans positioned throughout the concourse for those blazing day games, and there is also a "refresh station" provided by a local healthcare firm. This station blows cool air and allows a brief respite from the heat.
If your kids are tiring of the cheers and contests, there is also a pretty spacious playground down the left field line. The playground is at the top of the Family Terrace area, which allows the kids to burn off energy within close proximity while you watch the game from the top of the lawn. This is also a great place to read your free program, which is provided by a nice club employee as you enter the park.
Fluor Field is commonly recognized as one of the better parks in its classification, and it goes a long way to earn that distinction. Greenville is much more than a stop on the way from Charlotte to Atlanta, and a trip here - for whatever your reason - will not disappoint. Plan ahead, though, as the Drive's popularity just might leave you in a traffic jam on an impromptu visit.
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Greenville, SC 29615
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Greenville, SC 29601
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