2020 Freitas Awards: Greenville Drive (Class A)
When the coronavirus pandemic first hit the U.S. in mid-March, it was a moment of challenge and uncertainty for much of the nation.
The effect on minor league teams was no different. The season was first delayed and then eventually canceled due to the spread of Covid-19. But during that unprecedented first month of March, the Greenville Drive, the low Class A affiliate of the Red Sox, put plans in place to help the community it had called home since 2006.
“The ballpark is a place where the community gathers,” said Jeff Brown, vice president of marketing for the Drive.
“Where they celebrate. Where we work through challenges. Where we shine a light on what’s important to our community. W kind of took it as a challenge of, ‘How do you deliver that same impact, that same emotional connection, but do so without actually physically gathering?’ ”
Even without minor league baseball, the Drive found ways to impact the Greenville, S.C., community, whether it was through raising more than $7,200 for Feeding America, hosting high school graduations at Fluor Field, honoring military members with events on Sept. 11 and Veteran’s Day, putting together community blood drives and more.
For all of the organization’s efforts, Greenville has been chosen as the Class A Freitas Award winner. The significance was not lost on Drive general manager Eric Jarinko.
“Given the year that we’ve had and everything that’s gone into this year—or hasn’t gone into this year—to really be recognized this year, it definitely speaks to the level of community involvement and community commitment we’ve had here in Greenville and in the upstate,” he said.
“And since Day One of 2006, when the organization first started, it’s always been our mission to be part of the fabric of this community and really we doubled down on that this year in spite of not having baseball.”
The idea to double down on programs the team had done before, while helping those impacted by Covid-19, led to raising more money than any community in the minor leagues. With every $10 contributed through Harvest Hope Food Bank in Greenville, the Drive set aside a free ticket to a 2021 game for frontline workers—from first responders to health care staffers to restaurant workers, truck drivers and convenience store clerks.
The team plans to celebrate those professionals with a night dedicated to them at the ballpark during the 2021 season.
But while many initiatives stayed the same, just with the added twist of being socially distanced and not including the backdrop of a baseball game, others were specific to 2020.
The Drive sold more than 200 T-shirts with the moniker “stay at home,” thus raising more than $5,000 for the United Way’s Covid-19 Relief Fund. Later in October, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against trick-or-treating, the Drive held a socially distanced Green Monster Mash Halloween Event on Oct. 17, inviting more than 1,000 people into the ballpark for a safe afternoon of hay rides, costume contests, a movie presentation, candy and other activities.
The team even found ways to connect with the community in the most 2020 way possible by virtually hosting its fifth annual Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Night through Facebook Live, with the help from high-profile companies in the region—including BMW and General Electric—leading to thousands of students from across the state registering to learn about technology and engineering.
“All of that content we created, we’re able to distribute that to teachers moving forward in the classroom,” Jarinko said. “. . . You started talking to teachers and people after it saying, ‘As good as the in-person event is, this one is incredible because look at all the content you created for us to use in the classroom statewide.’ ”
Perhaps most valuable of all, to both the team and the community, the Drive were able to showcase the resiliency of their staff and the impact the team had in the community in a year when it was needed most, even in a season when no baseball games were being played at all.
“Our staff has really rallied around one another in making sure that the ballpark and the organization stays relevant,” Jarinko said, “and at the same time, people have seen, ‘OK, this place, for all it’s done in the community on the baseball side, look what it can do on non-Drive games.’ ”