Columbia, South Carolina has long been one of the largest markets in the country without any form of professional sports team at any level. In 2004, the Capital City Bombers left Columbia without a minor league team when they left for Greenville, South Carolina to become the Drive. Poor facilities resulting in marginal support from the locals led to the team abandoning the city. Doubts lingered in the city about whether or not Columbia could support a minor league team in the future, particularly with the high-profile facilities of the South Carolina Gamecocks' college baseball team in town. Enter Spirit Communications Park.
In 2014, the wheels started turning on bringing minor league baseball back to Columbia as investors began talks to open a new ballpark in the area of the old State Mental Hospital off of Bull Street near downtown. After a lengthy debate, a budget of $37 million was allotted, and architectural giant Populous began construction. The final piece of the puzzle fit when the Savannah Sand Gnats (Single-A affiliate of the Mets) confirmed they were moving to Columbia to be the new occupants. After a contest was run to choose the name, the Columbia Fireflies were born. Spirit Communications paid for the naming rights, and on April 14, 2016 the beautiful new Spirit Communications Park opened its gates for the first home game of the Fireflies.
At a capacity of 9,000 for sporting events, the park is built to accommodate much more than just baseball. Spirit Communications Park can host sports from football to soccer, concerts, and other events, and is open to the public to serve as a jogging and walking track. Built as the centerpiece to an anticipated new shopping, dining and nightlife district, there is true potential here.
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With four concession stands and twenty-five rolling carts located around the park, food is not a problem here. Throw in a large and beautiful outfield bar, and there's very little left to be desired in terms of concessions at Spirit Communications Park.
Every single ballpark staple you could hope for can be found here, and it's all of excellent quality. The main concessions stands consist of items like Nathan's hot dogs ($3.50-$4), hamburgers and cheeseburgers ($4.50-$5), grilled chicken sandwiches ($5), chicken tenders with fries ($8), pizza by the slice ($3.50) or whole ($25), and a variety of other options. But the highlight of the concessions is what you can find around the park at the carts. Mexican food, barbecue, boiled peanuts, fresh grilled brats and burgers, snow cones and Dippin' Dots are just some of the wide array of food options.
Drink options are just as solid. Pepsi products are sold in regular size or in a 32-ounce souvenir cup. You can also get Aquafina water ($3) or Gatorade ($3.50) at the main concessions. A variety of other beverages are available at the carts around the stadium, as well. But if you're here for beer and a ballgame, there's even better news. While domestic and craft beer are sold at the concessions stands, there are a variety of beer choices all around the concourse. Behind home plate is the Sweetwater Bar selling the Atlanta favorite, along with other beer options. But the highlight of the park might be in right field. The massive Budweiser Bar sells far more than just its namesake, with a decent variety of beers on tap and even more in the cooler. You can even purchase wine here. Prices are a little higher than the concession stand, depending on the beer, but the variety makes up for it.
There's a very wide variety of selections, and you really can't go wrong with any of it. Sample the food carts on your way out to the right field Budweiser Bar. There's really not much to complain about here.
The ballpark itself has just about everything a minor league fan could ask for. From quirky designs in the outfield to walkable concourses, everything is here. Designers Populous and ownership of Hardball Capital combined to do what they always do, and that's build a great and fan friendly stadium.
As you enter the beautiful brick main gate behind home plate, the park will open up to you with great sight lines from a wide concourse. The concourse provides field views all the way around, with bar seating lining most of it. This makes General Admission incredibly appealing, because the park is so walkable with so many great views. To add to that, the park provides more tabletop seating than I've ever seen at a minor league park. Along with the bar seating lining the concourse, almost the entire first and third base sides along the outfield are picnic table sections. Currently, these sections are mostly reserved, but as the initial excitement around the new team wears off a bit, you could expect that there will be more open to General Admission.
The next noticeable design is the incredibly quirky outfield wall. The warning track has odd angles all across it, recessing into the wall and back out again. At one point, an overhang in center field is actually in play, making for some potential odd bounces. Left and right field consist of large berm areas, with the right field area being tiered for those who don't bring a blanket. The large scoreboard in left covers all details, and the unique neon green color as part of the Fireflies' color scheme makes for readable signage around the park.
There is also a massive amount of suite seating above the concourse behind home plate with bar and food options. There are even reservable box seats on both the first and third base concourse for groups, with food and taps.
The outfield consists of the massive Budweiser Bar, as well as separate restroom facilities. In left field, there is a large kids area with bouncy houses of every kind. The park truly has a little bit for everyone.
There are promotions between every single inning that keep fans consistently engaged. They are pretty standard for minor league parks, but include some unique promotions such as a "High-Low" card game and "Who can find it first?" scavenger hunt for a lucky section. Mason, the Firefly mascot, makes his way around the park, greeting fans throughout.
This is one of the easiest parks to walk that I've been to. General Admission is easily the best ticket, and be sure to spend your time walking the park or pull up a seat at the outfield bar or bar seating along the concourse edges. This provides you easy access to all of the concessions and bar options.
The area immediately around the stadium is nothing great...yet. In future years, the old State Mental Hospital grounds are expected to blossom into an area full of bars, restaurants and shopping. Plans for the complex mean the sky is the limit here, but until that develops, the park will just have to settle for being close to downtown.
In the meantime, take the short drive downtown to either 5 Points or the Vista for some of the excellent bar and food options there. Not far away on Main Street, you can find Cantina 76, home to a variety of craft beer and some of the best tacos in the southeast. The Vista lies just beyond that, and is full of other excellent food options. On the other side of the city is 5 Points, where a lot of the college students at the University of South Carolina spend their weekend (and other) nights. Here you can check out a Columbia classic restaurant called Yesterdays. It's easy to spot; it's the one with the man in a bathtub structure over the front door.
Columbia is not exactly loaded with unique attractions, but there are some good ones to check out right downtown. The famous State House is just a short drive away, and it offers a beautiful grounds full of historic landmarks. The Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens is one of the nicer zoos you'll find anywhere. And you can always just take a stroll around the Horseshoe on the University of South Carolina campus.
Hotels are plentiful in Columbia, but there aren't a lot in the immediate area of the ballpark yet. The Embassy Suites is a straight shot to the park along I-26 and Elmwood Ave. The Hilton in the Vista is close to all of the current local bars and nightlife. Either are good options, but there are plenty more in the city.
There's not a whole lot of history to judge fans on in Columbia. Although they previously had a Minor League Baseball team prior to 2004, the facilities in general turned fans off. Now this state-of-the-art ballpark has fans still figuring out what to do with it.
If attendance is any measure, they have to rate highly. In the games played at the park so far, fans have turned out in the thousands, including over 9,000 for the first game played in the park. While this number is sure to wane a bit to a more reasonable average over time, it's yet to be seen where that number lands.
But so far, the fans seem very engaged and excited about the team and even more so about the ballpark itself. Fan demeanor at the games ranges from curious to all-out enthusiasm for the park. Lines at the Mason Jar (the team store) are consistently long, as fans scramble to purchase new merchandise. The bars are crowded, the seats are full and the crowd is loving their new team. All things are looking up here.
Access to the park in general is still a work in progress. The area around the ballpark is as new as the park, so growing pains are to be expected.
There's not really public transit to the stadium itself, and parking is spread all over the large grounds of the old State Mental Hospital. The park does, however, offer trolley service from all parking lots to the stadium, making it easier to get to the main gate. Until crowds die down and traffic patterns are figured out, traffic here will continue to be a bit tricky.
Most of the parking options are north of the stadium along Colonial Ave. Prices are at $3 across the board, which is very reasonable for Minor League Baseball. For now, plan some extra time to get there to deal with the traffic until the crowds start to settle back down to reasonable expectations.
There is one gate behind home plate that has a ticket window, and this can also get a bit congested. I'd strongly advise buying a ticket in advance to avoid lines at the window. This will likely get easier as time goes on and the novelty wears off a bit. Once you have tickets, getting into the park through the large main gate is a breeze.
The concourses are wide and should be easy to navigate, but for now the crowds will still make it tricky to move around behind home plate. Once you clear the initial congestion, you'll find that it's much easier to walk the open concourses in the outfield. There shouldn't be any issues overall with navigation in the park as things move forward. Concession lines can get a bit long, but because of the number of stands around the park you can always find somewhere to eat relatively quickly. Restrooms are plentiful and large and never seem to be a problem.
The stadium itself will quickly become a gem of the minor leagues and should only get better as the area around the park builds up. It's a park that is easily worth the trip for any baseball fan.
Tickets run from $5 for General Admission up to $18, which is close to par for the course, if not somewhat affordable for the minors. And for a great park, it's more than worth it. Throw in affordable parking and about average food and drink prices, and you're getting a great deal for a great park.
This park was built with extras in mind. An easy starting point is the field design and dimensions, specifically the outfield wall. Watching outfielders get lost in the quirks and nooks of the wall trying to field deep fly balls will be fun for any baseball fan. There's also the unbelievable amount of table and bar seating located around the park. It makes for a great experience for any fan looking to relocate a few times during a game. Add to that the quantity and quality of berm seating in the outfield, and you have a great park for seating in general. On top of that, from the kids area to cornhole and fun areas in the outfield, there's just a lot for everyone to do, even the most casual baseball fan. And finally, the outfield bar is just spectacular, as outfield bars go. It's large, well-staffed and full of beer options. You could probably even pick out a few more extras here. This park does it well.
Join the crowds and bask in the growing excitement around Spirit Communications Park in Columbia. It's worth a trip, and is likely to evolve into one of the best Single-A experiences in the country as the area grows up. To quote the Fireflies' announcer and billboards, "Let's Glow."
When the Capital City Bombers left Columbia just before the 2005 season in order to move to Greenville there was a good reason. Capital City Stadium was far below the standards of MiLB and the city and the University of South Carolina couldn't agree on a shared facility. Eleven years later Columbia had 2 great ballparks, one for the Gamecocks and now Spirit Comm Park for the Fireflies, a phenomenal ballpark that will only get better as the surrounding area is developed in the coming years.
I went to the opening night game, and the crowds were amazing. There was a long line for everything: food, beer, the line for the merchandise shop wrapped around inside the store. The fans here in Columbia are starved for more baseball, even with the perennially great Gamecocks playing just down the road. The stadium is beautiful, although the surrounding area has a lot of development left to do. There is a lot of potential for this new park to be the hub of a vibrant urban area in the old state mental hospital grounds.
My first MiLB park and I thought it was great! Once they further develop the surrounding area it will become a real destination. Fantastic vision and I'm confident the Fireflies will deliver.
Attended Opening Night, based on reviews of the park here and on other sites. While the park itself is very nice, game execution still has tons of work to be done. Will Call was literally 2 people at a folding table digging thru 2 plastic boxes for tickets. Concessions - I stood in line from the 2nd inning until the 5th to get food for my family - over an hour! Not sure if this is a training issue or what, but there were many disgruntled folks! You can do better!
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