Greenville, SC - The Greenville Drive's 2017 season has been filled with highlights from start to finish. The season began with the unveiling of a sparkling new $14 million enhancement project to Fluor Field, and continued with the organization's first South Atlantic League Championship. The year will also end with a flourish, as the Drive have been selected by Minor League Baseball as the recipient of the John H. Johnson President's Award, the most prestigious award handed out to a minor league franchise.
This recognition, which distinguishes the Drive as the top franchise of the 160 teams in Minor League Baseball, marks the first time a South Atlantic League organization has been the recipient of the President's Award. In addition, the Drive join the Pawtucket franchise - the recipient in 1990 - as the second Boston Red Sox affiliate bestowed this honor.
The John H. Johnson President's Award has been presented annually since 1974 to honor the complete baseball franchise. The award's criteria are based on contributions to baseball in the community, promotion of the baseball industry, financial stability and contributions to league stability. The Drive were nominated for the President's Award with their selection as the South Atlantic League's recipient of the Club Merit Award, given to the team in each league that is consistent in their commitment to operational excellence, including the experience of its fans.
"The ownership and staff of the Greenville Drive have done a fantastic job of attracting fans to beautiful Fluor Field over the last 12 years, and their continued emphasis on community, education and youth development programs help make them a model franchise for Minor League Baseball," said Minor League Baseball President and CEO Pat O'Conner. "The fact that they have spent over $16 million on upgrades to a ballpark that was privately funded to begin with, and annually brings over 100,000 people to the ballpark for non-baseball events shows their level of dedication to their city. This award is an acknowledgement of their efforts to be a great partner in their city and I congratulate them on a job well done."
The John H. Johnson President's Award adds to an impressive list of accolades for the Drive since its Inaugural Season in 2006, which began with the BaseballParks.com Ballpark of the Year honor. Most recently, the Drive were awarded the South Atlantic League's top honor, as the Club Merit award recipient for the third time, as well as the league's Excellence in Marketing award winner for the fourth consecutive season, and the Esurance Homefield Advantage recipient for the second straight year.
Drive Owner and President Craig Brown commented on the Johnson Award, noting, "When we broke ground on Fluor Field more than 12 years ago, we set the goal to become the most impactful organization in Minor League Baseball - being a part of the fabric of the Upstate Community, building strong relationships with industry and community leaders, and priding ourselves on providing our fans with family-friendly, affordable entertainment that will create everlasting memories. We always strive to make our organization, Fluor Field, and the Upstate better each year, and the Johnson Award is an incredible honor that recognizes our staff, community, and ballpark for the sustained success that we've been fortunate to have."
Brown added, "We wouldn't be able to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves without the support of the Upstate Community, who have embraced us from day one, and our major league affiliate, the Boston Red Sox, who have been a loyal partner to our franchise since 2005 and given our organization the tools and inspiration to succeed both on and off the field."
Since 2006, the Drive organization and Fluor Field have played a major role in the revitalization of Downtown Greenville, specifically the Historic West End. Within a half-mile radius of the ballpark more than 80 retail businesses and 60 restaurants have opened, to go along with a combination of 439 total businesses in the district, generating over $3.3 billion in sales.
"The Drive's success can be attributed to the unique public-private partnership that we have enjoyed with the City of Greenville for over a decade," said Brown. "Without Mayor Knox White and City Council's shared vision back in 2005, none of this would have been possible. Fluor Field has served as a catalyst for economic development and growth in the Historic West End, which now stretches into the West Village of Greenville."
City of Greenville Mayor Knox White added, "This award is a tribute to the dynamic contribution the Greenville Drive have made in our community. Craig Brown and his team create a memorable experience for everyone who enters Fluor Field. Their dedication to Greenville and crafting a gathering place, not just a baseball stadium, truly puts the Greenville Drive in a league of their own."
The 2017 season began with the unveiling of $14 million in enhancements to Fluor Field, which were recognized by Ballpark Digest this September as the Best Ballpark Renovation in all of Minor League Baseball. The additions to the home of the Drive included 87 seats atop the Green Monster, the Champions Club presented by Hubbell Lighting - an enclosed venue for group outings on the suite level, the Rooftop at Fluor Field - an open venue for group outings atop the building beyond the Green Monster, the Front Porch - the Drive's new ticket plan holder lounge, chairback seats in sections 116-120 - now known as "Pesky's Porch," and redesigned entry plazas at both the Main Street and Field Street entrances.
"This is a well-deserved honor for the Greenville Drive. The Drive exemplifies all of the characteristics of a great organization, and they have sustained that excellence year-in and year-out," said South Atlantic League President, Eric Krupa. "Craig Brown, Eric Jarinko, and the entire Drive staff work hard to deliver affordable, family-friendly while also involving themselves in and supporting many initiatives throughout the Upstate and beyond."
For the 12th consecutive season, the Drive drew more than 325,000 fans to Fluor Field, while continuing their commitment to making the Upstate Community a stronger region via the Drive's commitment to innovative economic development events that primarily support quality education, workforce development initiatives, and youth leadership. The 2017 season marked the 10th anniversary of the Reading All-Stars program, presented by Michelin, NA. Since its inception, the Reading All-Stars program has impacted more than 600,000 elementary and middle school students across Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson and Pickens Counties, improving reading skills and ultimately having a direct impact on the improvement in high school graduation rates.
The Drive's reach into the Upstate Community also included the ninth-year of Safe Kids Upstate at Fluor Field. In partnership with Greenville Health System, Safe Kids Upstate and the Drive have educated more than 15,000 elementary school students on the prevention of childhood injuries, with the Drive also sponsoring the safety patrols at all elementary schools across the tri-county area.
Youth Development has also been a key initiative for the Drive over 12 years, using Fluor Field as a platform to reinforce workforce development programs and build the next generation of leaders through strategic partnerships with organizations like Greenville Health System and Greenville County Schools for "Healthcare Careers Night", and BMW, Hubbell Lighting, and Greenville Technical College for "Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Night".
"At our fundamental core, we have always strived for the Greenville Drive and Fluor Field to be a pillar of the Upstate Community - an organization and venue that community and business leaders can utilize as an extension of their platform and messaging," said Drive General Manager, Eric Jarinko. "Out of 160 teams, to be named Minor League Baseball's John H. Johnson President's Award recipient is very humbling, and also proves that the Drive's impact has been much greater than just baseball. This award is a total team effort across the board, from the Drive staff - both Front Office and Game Day staff - to our partners, ticket plan holders, fans and the entire Upstate Community. Without the strong relationships and commitments that have been forged over the past 12 years, this sustained success would not be possible."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.