Chronological Tour: Stop 385

A Spirited Effort in Columbia

Walking up to Spirit Communications Park, Sep-2016.

A look in from down the left-field line.

The view from behind the plate.

Quick Facts: Rating: 4 baseballs
Rising from the rubble of the state mental hospital, Spirit Communications Park is the latest gem of the South Atlantic League. It is the first development in what the city hopes will be a revitalized Bull Street section of town. Bull Street is a significant artery that, north of the park, becomes SC 277, a freeway that connects to I-20 and I-77.

Several of the old buildings on the property continue to stand and are still used by the state Department of Mental Health. But as of 2016, the stadium essentially stood alone in the expansive, 157-acre tract, a mile or so north of the state capitol and the University of South Carolina.

As part of the development process, the city-owned facility is “open” at times when there is no game being played. Locals are encouraged to walk in and take walking or jogging laps around the concourse, which encircles the entire stadium and measures about a third of a mile. This, too, will certainly become more popular as the parcel redevelopment takes hold.

The team that relocated to Columbia was the former Savannah Sand Gnats, then a New York Mets farm team playing at Grayson Stadium, some of whose bones date to 1927. The contrast beteween the facilities cannot be more evident. Interestingly, the previous Columbia team, playing at Capital City Stadium from 1983 to 2004, was also a Mets farm club; the affiliation changed when that club moved upstate to Greenville.

Getting to the Game

Most visitors approach the field either from Bull Street or from Colonial Drive. There are many streets platted through the former hospital complex (including Freed Street, the park’s official address), but most are dirt roads, pending further development that might also bring paving. Much of the parking during the park’s first season was on grass fields where former hospital complex buildings once stood.

Since the parking is spread out, there are shuttles that run to bring patrons directly to the park entrance. After the game, some primary alleys through the complex are restricted to pedestrians and unavailable for use by motorists attempting to leave the area.

Watching the Game

The facility has as many seating options for attendees as I have seen at any minor league park, and most are reasonably priced. As of 2016, standard seating was $9. For a few dollars more, the “scout seats” behind the plate are available, with counters and wait service. (Some scouts sit there too.) Along the concourse are numerous tables, cordoned off as boxes complete with tables and food warmers, essentially constituting al fresco suites. Of course, there are suites above the main grandstand as well.

As one might expect, the park also includes picnic areas, outfield grass seating, and a bar in center field. The night I attended was the first Saturday of the college football season, so the large-screen TVs at the outfield bar were popular. The large screens are large enough to be seen from behind home plate, although that’s a bit far to discern what is actually being televised.

Enjoying the Game

While most everything is run professionally, and the team runs in-game promotions similar to most other minor league venues, this is where I did find a few nits to pick.

For one, there is no dedicated scoreboard here, a complaint I have had with several new parks, including the one in Birmingham. Especially between innings, the score display is prone to entirely disappearing while promotional announcements cover both the outfield matrix board and the auxiliary scoreboard mounted above the third-base grandstand.

For another, I took issue with some of the sound effects being played. These were recorded voices that were critical of calls made by the umpires. While it is well within the right of paying customers to boo the umpire, for criticism to come from the press box is thoroughly unprofessional. The sound guy became more cantankerous as the game moved into extra innings.

Game # Date League Level Result
1510 Sat 3-Sep-2016 South Atlantic A COLUMBIA 5, Charleston SC 4, 14 inn
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This page updated 16-Sep-2016