The four minor league teams that call South Carolina home returned to their soggy ballparks on Tuesday, one day after the torrential rains that caused so much destruction in their home state finally came to an end.
The Charleston Riverdogs, Columbia Fireflies, Greenville Drive and Myrtle Beach Pelicans each found minimal damage at their stadiums--roofs that sprung leaks, standing water in dugouts and clubhouses, playing fields in need of repair--that are merely nuisances compared to what many of their fans are dealing with after a thousand-year storm dumped upwards of two-feet of rain in parts of the state.
So the four minor league clubs are teaming up to support the fans who have supported them over the years by creating a joint GoFundMe page to raise funds for the American Red Cross of the Palmetto SC Region. Each of the four teams, along with Minor League Baseball Charities, has contributed $2,500 to the fund. The goal is to raise $100,000.
(Those wishing to contribute can go to the #PalmettoStrong GoFundMe page.)
Minor league teams are much more than just guests in the communities where they play. They become a part of it, develop bonds with fans and local businesses, and are dependent upon those relationships. So when tragedy strikes--in this case a deluge that has taken 18 lives, breached 18 dams and caused millions of dollars in damages across South Carolina--the teams feel a duty to respond.
"You sit there in your own house and see what is happening and know that some areas are lower and others are more prone to getting hit," said Charleston general manager Dave Echols, now in his 13th season with the team. "You see water up to mailboxes and homes where furniture is floating, and there is no doubt that those people are our fans. So that's gut-wrenching to see."
Echols visited his ballpark on Saturday during the heart of the storm, with police officers blocking off flooded downtown streets waving him through. He found water around Joseph Riley Jr. Ballpark, which sits just blocks from the Ashley River, but little within it.
"I don't know how, but we made it out all right," Echols said.
The Fireflies consider themselves equally fortunate. The team, scheduled to debut in the South Atlantic League next season after relocating from Savannah, had scheduled a "topping out ceremony" last weekend to celebrate the final beam being placed in their ballpark under construction. But that has been delayed indefinitely, team owner Jason Freier said.
The storm didn't cause any significant damage to the ballpark, Freier said, other than creating a muddy mess at the construction site. He believes the project will be delayed as they cleanup and local contractors tend to more pressing needs in the community, but Freier said they allowed enough of a cushion in the construction timeline for it to open on time next spring.
"When you plan for worst-case scenarios in terms of weather," Freier said, "this is pretty much it."
Columbia was among the hardest-hit regions in the state, with one weather station near downtown recording 16.6 inches of rain on Sunday alone. Freier, whose Opening Day Partners company is based in Atlanta, had not been to Columbia since the storm but he had followed the news closely. He described the images of homes and businesses underwater as heartbreaking.
"We will certainly figure out ways we can help in community efforts growing out of this," Freier said, adding that ballpark construction will have to take a backseat to local recovery efforts. "The most important thing is that people are taking care of the most pressing needs in the community."