COLUMBIA, SC - Labor Day marked the end of the inaugural season of Columbia Fireflies baseball at Spirit Communications Park. For the first time in 12 years, professional baseball returned to the Midlands, and what happened between April 7 and September 5 did not disappoint.
Spirit Communications Park was completed on time and on budget for the 2016 opener between the Fireflies and the Greenville Drive. A little over three months later, the 7,501-seat multi-use venue was named the 2016 Ballpark of the Year by Ballpark Digest. "Spirit Communications Park is not only our Ballpark of the Year, it's also one of the best ballparks opened in the last decade," Ballpark Digest Publisher Kevin Reichard said in July.
Ballpark Digest presented the award to the Fireflies on August 11, the same evening the team announced the 2017 South Atlantic League All-Star Game would be played at Spirit Communications Park. The game - which takes place on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 - will be the first SAL All-Star game in Columbia since 1992. "Spirit Communications Park was built for an event of this magnitude," Team President John Katz said after the announcement. "We're excited to have the opportunity to showcase the dramatic growth and vibrancy that our community has experienced."
Here's a look at some other memorable highlights from the 2016 season:
At the Park:
- 261,134 fans came out to watch Fireflies baseball at Spirit Communications Park in 2016, a record for a Columbia professional baseball team (surpassing the Capital City Bombers' mark of 156,921 total fans in 1996)
- 11 games featured crowds of 5,000 or more, including Opening Night on April 14 (9,077) and the Fourth of July (9,228 - single-game record)
- Not only was Columbia among the best in all of Low-A in terms of total attendance, the Fireflies out-drew 27 of the 30 Advanced-A clubs, 10 Double-A clubs and a Triple-A club
- Over 2,000 fans witnessed the first high school football game between Ridgeview and Fairfield Central on September 9
Coaching Staff Accolades:
- Jose Leger - in his seventh season as a manager in the New York Mets system - helped coach the World Team at the MLB All-Star Futures Game in San Diego, California (managed by six-time MLB All-Star, Moises Alou)
- The annual game features the best international and American prospects two days before the Midsummer Classic
- Strength and Conditioning Coach Alex Tavarez was selected to coach in the Arizona Fall League
- 10 Fireflies were promoted to a higher level in the Mets organization (Advanced-A St. Lucie, Double-A Binghamton, Triple-A Las Vegas) at points during the season: Vinny Siena (STL) P.J. Conlon (STL), Tucker Tharp (STL), David Thompson (STL), Alex Palsha (STL), Kevin Kaczmarski (STL), Andrew Church (STL, LV), Tyler Bashlor (STL), Joe Shaw (BING) and Nabil Crismatt (BING)
- Four Fireflies were named to the South Atlantic League's mid-season All-Star team: P.J. Conlon, Alex Palsha, Vinny Siena and David Thompson
- P.J. Conlon: At the time of his promotion to Advanced-A, had the most wins (8) and 2nd-best ERA (1.84) in the SAL
- Alex Palsha: Was a perfect 14-for-14 in save opportunities when promoted to St. Lucie
- Vinny Siena: At the time of his call-up to St Lucie, was tied for the league-lead in on-base percentage (.435) and second in walks (51)
- David Thompson: Led the league in RBIs (58) when he was called up to Advanced-A
- P.J. Conlon (May 30-June 5) and Nabil Crismatt (August 8-14) both garnered South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week honors
The Top Performances:
- Columbia's first franchise win was a no-hitter on April 9 in Charleston; Thomas McIlraith, Alex Palsha and Johnny Magliozzi combined to blank the RiverDogs, 9-0
- On June 4, P.J. Conlon became the first minor league pitcher in nearly 11 years to record 10 innings in a start (using an astonishingly low 97 pitches); the lefty carried a no-hitter into the seventh that evening, but was handed a no decision
- Andrew Church became the first Firefly to toss a complete-game shutout on July 16; the right-hander struck out 10 and allowed just one hit in the victory
- On August 22, Enmanuel Zabala notched the first - and only - 5-for-5 night at the plate
- Tucker Tharp's 26-game on-base streak was fifth best in the South Atlantic League
League Leaders (Fireflies that finished in the top 10 in SAL statistical categories):
- 1st, .414 On-Base Percentage: Patrick Mazeika (among hitters with 250 or more plate appearances)
- 2nd, 0.85 WHIP: Andrew Church (among pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched)
- 2nd, .216 Batting Average Against (Relievers): Craig Missigman
- 3rd, 78 Strikeouts (Relievers): Craig Missigman
- 4th, 71.2 Innings Pitched (Relievers): Craig Missigman
- 4th, 4.2 BB:9 IP Ratio: Kevin Canelon
- 5th, 143.1 Innings Pitched: Kevin Canelon
- 6th, 134 Strikeouts: Joe Shaw
- 6th, 9.1 K:9 IP Ratio: Chase Ingram
- 6th, 4.3 K:BB Ratio: Kevin Canelon
- 6th, 70.0 Innings Pitched (Relievers): Seth Davis
- 7th, .305 Batting Average: Patrick Mazeika (among hitters with 250 or more plate appearances)
- 7th, 132 Strikeouts: Chase Ingram
- 8th, 31 Doubles: Dash Winningham
- 8th, 8.9 K:9 IP Ratio: Joe Shaw
- 9th, 69 RBIs: Dash Winningham
Even though the Fireflies 2016 season has come to an end, the field at Spirit Communications Park won't stay empty for long. Two more Columbia high school football games will be played at the ballpark this fall, with the next coming on October 7 when A.C. Flora plays host to Chapin.
You can also join us at the park for the Mayor's Walk Against Domestic Violence (October 8), Food Truck Festival (October 9), Walk to End Alzheimer's (October 15), Palmetto Health Foundation Walk for Life/Famously Hot Pink Half Marathon (October 22), and the Vietnam Memorial Yellow Ribbon Ride (November 12).
Columbia opens the 2017 season at home on Thursday, April 6, 2017 against the Augusta GreenJackets at 7:05 p.m.
About the Columbia Fireflies
The Columbia Fireflies are the South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets. The Fireflies play games across the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions, including against in-state rivals Charleston and Greenville. The team partnered with the city of Columbia and Hughes Development to construct Spirit Communications Park, a multi-use outdoor sports and entertainment venue at the center of the Commons at BullStreet development. The Columbia Fireflies are owned by Hardball Capital, owners of the Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Midwest League and the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League. For more information, visit www.ColumbiaFireflies.com, or follow the Fireflies on Twitter (@ColaFireflies), Facebook (facebook.com/columbiafireflies) and all popular social media platforms.
About Spirit Communications Park
The 2016 Ballpark Digest Ballpark of the Year, Spirit Communications Park is a 365-day per year multi-use sports and entertainment venue located in the heart of downtown Columbia. Spirit Communications Park is the home of the Columbia Fireflies, the South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets. Designed for baseball, concerts, football, soccer and a host of other activities, the venue seats approximately 9,000 for sporting events and up to 15,000 for major outdoor concerts. With 16 luxury suites and the 7,000 square-foot Club Level Lounge, Spirit Communications Park can host everything from business meetings to wedding receptions, and anything in between. The venue is open 365 days a year and serves as a public park, with the wrap-around concourse representing 1/3 of a mile for walkers and joggers. For more information, visit www.SpiritCommunicationsPark.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.