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Greenville Starts Over With Bombers
by Will Lingo
Well, that didn't take long.
Greenville, S.C., was without minor league baseball for about five months before it found a team to replace the Greenville Braves. Local fans will hardly notice because the new team will take the field at Municipal Stadium on Opening Day.
The Southern League franchise has moved south and will take up residence in Pearl, Miss., as the Mississippi Braves this season. And after Minor League Baseball decided in February who could take over the Greenville territory, the former Capital City Bombers have driven the moving trucks up Interstate 26 from Columbia, S.C.
While the city moves down from a Double-A league to the low Class A South Atlantic League, fans probably won't care when they're sitting in a new downtown ballpark in 2006.
The new team is known as the Greenville Bombers and apparently took the old Capital City Bombers and drew a line to make the old C into a G--hey, it's less than two months till Opening Day; it was the best they could do--but you can expect a new name and logo by next season.
Bombers president and general manager Rich Mozingo said he got official word that his team would be moving on Friday, Feb. 11 at 4:55 p.m. The next day he held a press conference in Greenville. Sunday he packed up his office in Columbia and drove back to Greenville. He's been there ever since.
"We're starting from ground zero here, but we're not taking this as a season off," Mozingo said as the second of two moving trucks arrived at Municipal Stadium. "We want to show the fans of Greenville what we're going to bring to the city."
Mozingo brought just two employees from Columbia, and he plans to hire seven or eight more for this season and more for seasons to come.
"We want to put our best foot forward," he said, "and we've got to start gearing up for 2006 as well."
No Shortage Of Suitors
Of course, this all began because the G-Braves wanted that new downtown ballpark, but they couldn't reach a deal with the city. The Braves took a better deal in Mississippi, and three groups quickly emerged to take their place.
The city of Greenville wanted to sign a deal with the Bombers when the nearby city of Mauldin got involved. Mauldin planned to build a stadium for the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, another Southern League franchise, and Mauldin got help from the council to finance a ballpark.
Then Mandalay Baseball Properties wanted to bring its South Atlantic League franchise, the Hagerstown Suns, to another city outside Greenville. At the same time, the city of Jackson, Tenn., told the Diamond Jaxx that it would oppose them moving out of a ballpark that had just been built for the team in 1998.
With the G-Braves gone, no group had a clear claim to the territory. Minor League Baseball finally decided in February to go with the bid from Greenville and the Bombers, which seemed all along to be the best plan. It featured a downtown ballpark in the middle of the area's population center, with a firm financing plan that featured a shared public and private contribution. Taxpayers will commit $4 million for the ballpark property and another $3.5 million for improvements in the area. The Bombers will contribute between $10 million to $15 million for the stadium.
"I'm thrilled it's us," Mozingo said. "We had a great financial package. It's rock-solid and it's been in place for a long time. It has been in place and hasn't wavered."
Rush To The Starting Line
Now there's the significant issue of getting ready to play ball this season, while at the same time moving ahead with plans for the new ballpark so everything is ready there by Opening Day 2006.
The Bombers bring a different league to Greenville, the South Atlantic. The city had a team in the Western Carolinas League, the forerunner to the current Sally League, from 1963-72, then was without baseball for more than a decade until the Braves came to town in 1984.
The new franchise also brings a new major league affiliate. The Braves had a natural geographical tie, but now Greenville fans will get used to cheering for the Red Sox. With the league's Charleston RiverDogs becoming a Yankees affiliate this season, the teams plan to play up the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry to build interest.
But early returns indicate Greenville fans are already excited by the new club in town. "People are unbelievably excited, but it's incredible how much work there is to do," Mozingo said. "We are going absolutely wide open right now."
The Bombers came to town with two months to get ready for their home opener, April 14 against the RiverDogs. They didn't have a single ticket sold, a single sponsor signed to a contract, a single sign hung in the outfield.
And Mozingo couldn't be happier.
"We're incredibly excited about how things have worked out and can't wait to get started here," he said.
You can contact Will Lingo by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.