Greenville, S.C., is a long way from Boston, both geographically and culturally.
But such distance is of no consequence to the South Atlantic League's Greenville Drive, which enthusiastically markets itself as "the Sox of the South." The Drive have been Boston's Class A affiliate since relocating to Greenville from nearby Columbia in 2005, but the relationship between the two clubs goes far beyond the Player Development Contract.
Fluor Field, located in Greenville's West End district, is a bona fide "mini-Fenway." The facility, which opened in 2006, boasts its own "Green Monster" and "Pesky Pole." The ballpark dimensions are exactly the same, and a manual scoreboard is located along the left-field wall. Fluor Field's Fenway inspirations came about not just because of the parent club but also as a matter of practicality.
"The piece of land our owners had to work with is small as compared to other stadiums, so a key issue was to find unique ways to maximize our space," said Drive general manager, Mike deMaine, of the privately funded stadium. "There's no better example of a large stadium within a small footprint than Fenway, so with our affiliation changing [to Boston], it was an easy tie-in."
But player development contracts need to be renewed every two to four years, leading to the possibility that this mini-Fenway could one day host a team with ties to a different organization. deMaine, however, is unconcerned about this incongruous possibility.
"As long as we can provide our players, and fans, with the best baseball experience that exists at this level, then I don't think it's something we need to worry about," he said.
Fluor Field is reminiscent of other Major League parks, as well, as the large brick building located just beyond the outfield wall brings to mind the B&O Warehouse of Baltimore's Camden Yards. This structure features a rooftop seating area -- rented out by its owner, NY Life -- as well as condominiums with porches that overlook the stadium. The large number of people viewing each game from these vantage points adds a Wrigley-esque charm to the equation.
It's the Red Sox aesthetic that dominates, however. deMaine says that the Drive's goal is to "turn those 'A' hats to 'B' hats, referring to Greenville's abiding love for the Atlanta Braves. The city's Minor League past has helped to cultivate this affinity, as the Double-A Greenville Braves played in the city from 1984-2004, before relocating to Pearl, Miss. The likes of Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and Javy Lopez played in Greenville during this time, honing their skills en route to long careers in Atlanta.
Many of Fluor Field's quirks are all its own. The preponderance of brick in the building's exterior is a nod to the textile mills of the city's past, and this architectural style helps integrate the facility with the rest of the neighborhood. In fact, the combination team store and ticket office is located separately from the rest of the ballpark in an all-brick structure that originally served as one of South Carolina's first firehouses.
And modern amenities abound, despite the overall emphasis on old-time charm. An open concourse provides a wide range of vantage points, and seating options include a grass berm area in left field and the sprawling "500 Club" bar area in right. The upper portion of the facility is ringed with comfortably appointed suites, but the most unique area is the dugout suite located along the first base line. In addition to the subterranean seating, this $750 all-inclusive group ticket package features private food and beverage service and an indoor lounge area with views of the hitting cage utilized by Drive players prior to (and sometimes during) a ballgame.
The only other Minor League team to offer such a seating option is the Visalia Rawhide, but deMaine was adamant that the Drive's version is superior.
"It's time for a dugout suite smackdown," he said. "I want to go on record that ours was first and best."