COLUMBIA, SC - Year two of Fireflies baseball at Spirit Communications Park was a highly-anticipated season that lived up to every bit of the hype. Columbia drew a record number of fans to the park, hosted the 58th annual South Atlantic League All-Star Game and played a game during a total solar eclipse.
Here's a look at some other memorable highlights from the 2017 season:
At the Park:
- The Fireflies have now set an attendance record in each of its first two seasons after 315,034 fans made it to Spirit Communications Park in 2017. That surpasses last season's record-breaking total of 261,134. The Fireflies averaged 4,773 fans per game, a 21% increase from the inaugural season (3,785).
- A single-game record 9,629 fans came out to the park on August 21 for 'Total Eclipse of the Park,' as the team welcomed guests from 34 states to the ballpark.
- Twenty-three games featured crowds of 5,000 or more, and eight times the Fireflies played in front of a crowd of 7,000 or more.
- Not only was Columbia among the best draws in all of Class A in terms of total attendance, the Fireflies out-drew 29 of the 30 Class A Advanced teams, 16 of the 30 Class AA teams and three Class AAA teams.
- Former Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow, began his professional baseball career in Columbia on April 6, 2017. He hit a home run in his first professional at-bat.
- Six Fireflies were named South Atlantic League mid-season All-Stars: RHP Merandy Gonzalez, RHP Jordan Humphreys , RHP Max Kuhns , INF Michael Paez , RHP Adonis Uceta and INF Dash Winningham .
- Dash Winningham was named All-Star Game MVP.
- Matt Blackham was twice named South Atlantic League - BC Powder Relief Pitcher of the Month (July, August). The right-hander did not allow an earned run in July or August and finished the year with a 4-2 mark and a 1.43 ERA in 40 relief appearances.
- Uceta won the SAL BC-Relief Pitcher of the Month Award for June. The righty also posted 13.1 scoreless innings during the month he won the award, and pitched to a 1.26 ERA during his time with Columbia, going 11-for-11 in save opportunities.
- Highly-touted Mets pitching prospect Thomas Szapucki was named SAL Pitcher of the Week (June 19-25) following a six-inning, 10-strikeout shutout performance against Kannapolis on June 25.
- The success carried over to the front office as well: team President John Katz was named SAL General Manager of the Year and Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Abby Naas was named Female Executive of the Year.
- Twelve Fireflies were promoted to a higher level in the Mets organization (Class A Advanced St. Lucie, Class AA Binghamton) at points during the season: Anthony Dimino (STL) Cam Griffin (STL), Austin McGeorge (STL), Michael Paez (STL), Jordan Humphreys (STL), Merandy Gonzalez (STL), Tim Tebow (STL), Adonis Uceta (STL, BING), Jacob Zanon (STL), Colby Woodmansee (STL), Harol Gonzalez (STL) and Ian Strom (STL).
- Here's how the six Fireflies All-Stars fared this season:
- Merandy Gonzalez: At the time of his promotion to Class A Advanced, had the second-most wins (8) and second-best ERA (1.55) in the SAL.
- Jordan Humphreys: Led the league with 10 wins and a 1.42 ERA when promoted to St. Lucie.
- Max Kuhns: Was 1-0 with a 2.10 ERA and five saves in 17 appearances with Columbia.
- Michael Paez: Led Columbia with a .290 batting average before he was called up to advanced-A at the all-star break; was tied for the league-lead with 21 doubles, tallied 31 extra-base hits (2nd, SAL), 43 RBIs (4th, SAL) and eight home runs.
- Dash Winningham: Led Columbia in 2017 with 13 home runs and 70 RBIs.
- Adonis Uceta: At the time of his call-up to St. Lucie, was third in the league with 11 saves and was 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA; in fact, Uceta was a perfect 11-for-11 in save opportunities with Columbia.
The Top Performances:
- Jordan Humphreys fanned a franchise-record 12 batters in his start against the Asheville Tourists on April 24; he did that over just 6.2 innings.
- On May 29, Dash Winningham had not just a career day, but a franchise-record day against the Augusta GreenJackets; the first baseman became the first Firefly to whack two homers in a game (a feat he accomplished again on June 8), drove in six runs and tallied 10 total bases, also single-game records.
- The Fireflies scored a franchise-record 16 runs on July 19 against the Lexington Legends; the final score was 16-2, and the 14-run margin of victory was also the largest in club history; Dan Rizzie recorded the franchise's second five-hit game (5-for-6).
- Gabriel Llanes (May 10 @ Delmarva) and Harol Gonzalez (July 23 @ Kannapolis) recorded the lone nine-inning complete games in 2017.
- Columbia won a franchise-record nine games in a row from June 4-12; this stretch helped the club finish the first half with a 40-28 mark, the best half in the franchise's short two-year history.
- Merandy Gonzalez chased a league record his first five outings of the season; the right-hander hurled 28.2 consecutive scoreless innings (April 9-May 3) which was 11 innings shy of the SAL record (39.2).
- Adonis Uceta also tossed 29.1 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run (May 11-July 22).
- Matt Blackham followed Uceta's lead and ended the year by hurling 26.2 consecutive innings without an earned run (July 4-September 1).
- Three Fireflies - Jay Jabs , Andres Gimenez and Luis Carpio - all recorded season-best 17-game on base streaks during the 2017 season.
League Leaders (Fireflies that finished in the top 10 in SAL statistical categories):
- 1st, 13.0 K:9 IP Ratio (Relievers): Matt Blackham
- t-1st, 3 complete games: Harol Gonzalez
- 3rd, .185 Batting Average Against (Relievers): Matt Blackham
- 3rd, 9.2, Fewest Baserunners Allowed per 9 IP (Relievers): Matt Blackham
- 4th, 86 Strikeouts (Relievers): Matt Blackham
- 4th, 0.86 ERA: Adam Atkins (among pitchers with 30 or more innings pitched)
- 6th, 142.2 Innings Pitched: Gabriel Llanes
- 7th, 125 Games Played: Luis Carpio
- 7th, 70 RBIs: Dash Winningham
- 8th, 53 Walks: Luis Carpio
- 10th, 48 Walks: Gene Cone
The curtain has closed on the baseball season in Columbia, but Spirit Communications Park is set to host three high school football games as part of the Palmetto Health-USC Orthopedic Pigskin in the Park Series this fall: Gray Collegiate vs. Brookland-Cayce on September 22, River Bluff vs. Spring Valley on October 13 and Ridge View vs. Westwood on October 20.
Columbia opens the 2018 season at home on Thursday, April 5, 2018 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. Winners of Ballpark Digest's Best New Branding and Logo Award in 2016, the Fireflies play games across the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions, including against in-state rivals in 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 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 ColumbiaFireflies.com, or follow the Fireflies on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
About Spirit Communications Park
Spirit Communications Park, the 2016 Ballpark Digest Ballpark of the Year, is a 365-day per year multi-use sports and entertainment venue located in the heart of downtown Columbia, SC. Spirit Communications Park is the home ballpark for 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 can accommodate approximately 9,000 for sporting events and up to 15,000 for major outdoor concerts. With 16 luxury suites and a 7,000 square-foot Club Level Lounge, Spirit Communications Park can also host everything from business meetings to wedding receptions, and everything 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.