For the Augusta GreenJackets, 2018 has been a season of change.
The GreenJackets, Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, have a new logo, a reinvented mascot and -- most crucially -- a new ballpark.
That facility, SRP Park, is in a new state. Whereas the team's previous home of Lake Olmstead Stadium was located in Augusta, Georgia, SRP Park is located across the Savannah River in North Augusta, South Carolina. The area upon which the ballpark was built used to be a brick factory, and at one point it was the home of a South Carolina liquor dispensary. (Several bottles from the dispensary were unearthed during the ballpark's construction and are on display at the upper-level South Carolina State Dispensary bar.)
The view from SRP Park's Taxslayer Terrace, which provides an elevated vantage point.
SRP Park, built at an estimated cost of $42 million, is the centerpiece of the Riverside Village development project. Riverside Village, originally called Project Jackson, is a "live, work and play ball" venture that includes (or, more accurately, soon will include) a Crowne Plaza Hotel, shops, bars, restaurants, office space and apartments and more. As is so often the case when city governments, public opinion and millions of dollars are involved, the GreenJackets' new digs took a long time to come to fruition. The team's attempts to build a new ballpark to replace the isolated and operationally difficult Lake Olmstead Park can be traced back to 2007; the plans for Project Jackson, meanwhile, were first unveiled in 2012.
The city of North Augusta staged a groundbreaking ceremony in May 2017, the official start of an accelerated construction timeline. SRP Park, the lone new stadium to debut during the 2018 Minor League season, was ready in time for Opening Day. The facility and the area surrounding it, though, still very much feel like a work in progress.
"In 2019 the retail that's in the blueprint of the stadium will all be open and running," said GreenJackets vice president Tom Denlinger. "So whether we have a game or not, this'll be a place where you can come down, have fun, hang out on Center Street, enjoy the restaurants and so forth and kind of take it in. This is its own little city within a city. ... And just being on the Savannah River adds a new element to the experience. Standing up here on the [right field] Taxslayer Terrace, you can see the river and feel it."
Video: Augusta's SRP Park: A 360-degree overview
On the days on which this writer visited -- July 16 and 17 -- a right field line structure hosting the Sweetwater Taproom and Southbound Smokehouse barbecue had yet to open. In left field, workers could be seen watching the action from various levels of a still-under-construction 32-unit apartment building. (That building also contains office space, as well as the home, visitor and umpire clubhouses on its ground floor.) Looming beyond the first base side of the facility is the aforementioned Crowne Plaza Hotel, which isn't scheduled to be finished until the end of 2018. The evolving nature of SRP Park and its surrounding environs is reflective of the Greater Augusta area.
"The CSRA [Central Savannah River Area] in general, it's just a great time to be here," Denlinger said, citing in particular Augusta's emergence as a cybersecurity hub. "They're actually building the [Georgia Cyber Training and Innovation Center] right across [the river] from us. When you look at the skyline and see cranes, that's always a good sign."
The view of the Savannah River, as well as the cranes beyond
The GreenJackets' affiliation with the San Francisco Giants is perhaps made most apparent by SRP Park's zig-zagging outfield walls, which are of shorter dimensions but symmetrically identical to those at the Giants' AT&T Park.
Otherwise, this is a ballpark that is most influenced by its local surroundings. Golf is a recurring theme, a reference to the role that the sport has played in the city of Augusta. The GreenJackets may be the only team to sell golf socks in their team store, and concession stands include the Back Nine Grill (located down the third base side) and, on the outfield concourse, The Turn. The GreenJackets' name, a reference to Augusta's Masters Tournament, has led to a number of bee references in the new park. For example: after dinner at the Bee'stro, one can get "Dezzzerts."
The golf theme extends outside of the park, as the GreenJackets offer golf cart rides from the relatively distant stadium parking lots.
"We've got a partnership with E-Z-Go. They're our official shuttlers, because there's a little hill [on the way to the ballpark]," Denlinger said. "And there's golf cart parking spots for people who drive their golf carts to the game."
SRP Park, while still evolving, is already a far cry from what GreenJackets fans had gotten used to at Lake Olmstead Stadium. But the more things change...
"At the end of the day, we're providing fun for the CSRA," Denlinger said. "So even though we came to shiny new digs, we want people to know that we're still the same affordable place to come and enjoy a game."