2012 Class A Freitas Award Winner: Greenville Drive
The Freitas Awards, named after longtime minor league baseball ambassador Bob Freitas, are awarded to honor minor league baseball clubs that show sustained excellence in the business of minor league baseball. Franchises must have been in operation for five seasons before they're eligible to win.
One of the most sought-after markets in recent minor league baseball history has turned into one of its best.
The Greenville Drive has been a hit since the franchise moved from Columbia, S.C., in 2005, beating out several teams interested in the market that had been vacated by the Braves' Southern League franchise, which moved to a new ballpark in Pearl, Miss. The demand for Greenville proved so great that Minor League Baseball changed its protocol for dealing with open territories.
The South Atlantic League team has been a success from day one, increasing attendance in each of its eight seasons and along the way demonstrating what a partnership between community and team can truly accomplish. The Braves left town after the 2004 season, failing to persuade local leaders to replace aging Greenville Municipal Stadium.
An ownership group headed by Craig Brown swooped in and agreed to pay for a new ballpark in exchange for the land in a blighted area of downtown, along with infrastructure improvements. Fluor Field has since served as a bookend to the city's downtown redevelopment, helping transform an abandoned portion of the city into a bustling entertainment district.
"They are the poster child for how a stadium can drive downtown development," South Atlantic League president Eric Krupa said.
"The success of the ballpark is one of the things we are most of proud of as an organization," Greenville general manager Mike deMaine said. "When you open a new ballpark you expect it to do well and be successful. We thought it would be a big asset to the community, but it has been much more special than we dreamed it could be."
There is good reason to come out to the ballpark, as Fluor Field is unique. The Red Sox affiliate pays tribute to the big league club's Fenway Park by incorporating several of its features. The dimensions at Fluor Field match Fenway's, and the park includes a 30-foot-tall Green Monster in left field and a replica Pesky Pole in right field.
Fluor Field also gives a tip of the cap to other noteworthy major league stadiums, as a brick office and condominium complex in left field resembles the warehouse at Camden Yards, and rooftop seating provides a hint of Wrigley Field.
"There is a throwback feel to our ballpark, a kind of traditional ballpark," deMaine said. "We don't have a swimming pool or a roller coaster, but we certainly have specific neighborhoods in the ballpark that deals with different special interest groups that may come to a game."
There is the 500 Club Restaurant that serves as the stadium's younger-adult party area. The restaurant can be rented out for special events, plays host to a variety of drink specials and includes a group-seating area overlooking the field.
"For the 70 nights of the year that we're open for baseball, we are the largest bar and restaurant in town," deMaine said.
Family-friendly entertainment is also the team's focus, and Fluor Field features an enclosed children's playground where parents can safely drop off their kids. The Drive operate their concession stands, which allows for creative branding opportunities. Their ice cream stand is dubbed Sweet Caroline's—a tribute to the seventh-inning stretch anthem at Fenway Park. There is also the Splendid Splinter concession stand and Tony C's Pizza stand. Running their own concessions has also allowed the team to keep prices down.
"Greenville is such a solid operation that as league president I feel guilty collecting their dues," Krupa said.