More Than Just Greenville's Drive

Before the advent of television and modern day transportation, recreation, for the most part, was homegrown. With few entertainment options available in small mill villages across the state, textile league baseball emerged. Popular until the 1950s, each town had its own team, and fans flocked by the hundreds to cheer on the players that represented their mills.

In keeping with the region's rich tradition of the game, the Greenville Drive -  since relocating to Greenville in 2005 - seamlessly blends the nostalgia of those days gone by with a keen awareness of the future. The team's standout stadium, Fluor Field, has helped to transform a city landscape that was in decline. Today, fans no longer come by the hundreds to cheer on their mill town team, but by the thousands to cheer on the hometown team.

Complete with a 30-foot high "Green Monster" wall in left field, a manual scoreboard, and "Pesky's Pole" in right field, the stadium is modeled after Fenway Park, paying homage to the Drive's affiliate team, the Boston Red Sox.

Named "Ballpark of the Year" by Ballparks.com in 2006, the $16 million privately funded facility -  built with reclaimed bricks from a local textile mill -  turned a former lumberyard into an integral part of the economic revitalization of Greenville's Historic West End. Within less than four years of opening, a 2010 report in the The State newspaper found that 48 new businesses had opened within a quarter-mile radius of the new stadium. Within a half-mile radius, 110 new businesses had opened.

"What we did caught on," said Nate Lipscomb, the team's senior vice president. "The ballpark has been a real spark plug to the entire West End renovation. Additional businesses came into this end of town and started up, renovating old buildings with new restaurants, shops, and spas."

According to a feasibility study released earlier this year, properties located close to Fluor Field have experienced increases in value at a time when much of the nation was reeling from the effects of a sagging real estate market. The study cites the Greenville Drive as a textbook example that illustrates the economic growth associated with a minor league baseball stadium, stating that "properties within [a half-mile] radius saw an average 31 percent annual increase in assessed value from 2006-2011, and the facility, by all accounts, has completely transformed the city."

"When the streets are safe and there are retail establishments, restaurants and businesses - activity on the streets - people enjoy themselves more and feel good about the neighborhood they are in," Lipscomb added.

The air filled with the unmistakable smell of stadium hot dogs and freshly cut grass, the Drive host 70 home games each season. Of importance to note, the games are fan-friendly, family-friendly and affordable. Ticket prices - which range from $5 to $9 -  have not been raised in seven years.

A distinctive part of the fabric of the Greenville community, the Drive have repeatedly set single season attendance records. And ticket sales -  which have been between 325,000 and 345,000 each season - demonstrate the Drive's regional attraction as well, with fans coming from across the Upstate and beyond.

"We came to realize very quickly that we are not just Greenville's baseball team, but we are the region's baseball team," said Lipscomb. "We see our customers as the entire Upstate community."

Always offering a great night out, the Drive organization strives to stay ahead of what fans want.
"We work hard to keep the ballpark fresh," Lipscomb said. "We make changes to it. We make changes to the physical amenities, to the concessions, and to the entertainment. It's a fresh experience each year."

But, as many fans - myself included - can attest, the biggest attraction is the environment that you are drawn into when you bring your family to a game. Simple. Inviting. Nostalgic.

About:
Greenville Drive tickets are available online and at the gate for $5 - $8 in advance and $6 - $9 the day of the game. Nightly specials throughout the week include $1 drinks on Thursday, fireworks on Friday, and Family Fun Day in Sunday. (View the complete specials/promotions calendar here.)

Getting there:
Click here for the official website.
Fluor Field is located at 945 S. Main Street in Greenville.
Box Office Phone - 864-240-4528

James Richardson is a freelance writer and the publisher of the Travelers Rest Tribune. When he's not writing, James enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and two children at any one of many places across the Upstate.