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Fluor Field / Greenville Drive

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In retrospect, MiLB made the absolute right choice in awarding the territory to the Drive: Fluor Field is already one of our favorite ballparks in the minors. The other ballpark plans called for teams playing out in Greenville's fast-growing suburbs. And while those ballparks probably would have been financially successful, they wouldn't have provided one of the biggest intangibles associated with Fluor Field: its amazing integration into what makes Greenville tick.

FAST FACTS

Year Opened: 2006
Capacity: 5,700
Architect: DLR Group
Dimensions: 310L, 379LC, 390C, 420C, 380RC, 302R
Playing Surface: Grass
Website: greenvilledrive.com
Phone: 864/240-4500
Ticket Prices (2009): Box Seat, $8; Reserved Seat, $7; Terrace Reserved Seat, $6; Lawn & Deck Seat, $5
League: South Atlantic League
Parent: Boston Red Sox
Parking: There is limited parking near the ballpark in private lots, mostly at $5. The Drive offers free parking at County Square Parking, about three blocks from the ballpark. A free trolley runs between the ballpark and the parking lot, but it is a very easy walk.
Address/Directions: 945 S. Main St., Greenville. Fluor Field is located on the city block bordered by Main Street, Field Street and Markley Street. Main Street runs directly through downtown Greenville; Fluor Field is actually at the southern end of Main Street.
Written by: Kevin Reichard

When the then-Capital City Bombers won a bruising battle for the Greenville market, one big factor in the victory was their plan to build a ballpark in Greenville's West End with the enthusiastic support of city officials.

In retrospect, MiLB made the absolute right choice in awarding the territory to the Drive: Fluor Field is already one of our favorite ballparks in the minors. The other ballpark plans called for teams playing out in Greenville's fast-growing suburbs. And while those ballparks probably would have been financially successful, they wouldn't have provided one of the biggest intangibles associated with Fluor Field: its amazing integration into what makes Greenville tick.

True, the ballpark is well-designed -- especially when you consider the constraints of the site, which we'll discuss a little later -- and the Drive run a good operation. But what makes Fluor Field stunning is how it reflects Greenville past and present, celebrating the city's rich baseball history while being a solid building block as Greenville plans for the future.

A little background on Greenville is in order. There's a rich baseball tradition in Greenville: Shoeless Joe Jackson grew up in Greenville and played for one of the city's many textile mill teams before turning pro. While there's always been minor-league baseball in Greenville for decades, those mill teams were just as important -- or maybe more important -- to the average Greenville citizen, and the many photos of local mill teams pay homage to that tradition.

Most of the mills are gone, and as they've left town Greenville has been forced to remake itself. Some southern textile towns merely withered away or went the tourist route; Greenville city leaders decided to attract the businesses of tomorrow (banks, high tech) and provide an elevated quality of life.

And much of that elevated quality of life centers on Main Street, where office buildings, trendy restaurants, shops, art galleries and parks coexist. Main Street extends from downtown south past the Reedy River to the West End, where it is now anchored by Fluor Field.

Greenville's West End was once the wrong side of the tracks, and even today it's not the greatest part of town once you get past the restaurants and art galleries. But the ballpark has already arguably improved the quality of life in the area, and when you combine other improvements in the area (the artists and artisans who would have left Greenville a decade ago now are staying home, lured by cheap rents in the West End and a thriving cultural scene), you have a key cog in the continuing renaissance of Greenville.

Of course, all of those cultural intangibles would be meaningless if the ballpark weren't such a great place to watch a ballgame.

The DLR Group faced quite the challenge when designing Fluor Field. The ballpark site is quite a bit smaller than the average ballpark site, and the surrounding streets all run cattywampus, so there's no clear approach to the ballpark on any nearby street. Fluor Field is a fairly modest facility, with a bowl sitting well below street level.

It is one of the most intimate ballparks you'll find at this level of baseball: all 5,700 seats are between the foul poles, as lot constraints in the form of office buildings and condos beyond left field and a railroad track beyond right field left no room for seating past the outfield fences. No grandstand seat is more than 13 rows away from the field. In a homage to the Drive's parent team, the dimensions of the outfield fences match those in Fenway Park; there's even a Pesky Pole down the right-field line and a miniature (30-foot-high) version of the Green Monster, complete with a manual scoreboard. For those who like color, there's also a 15x20 video screen in right field.

And Fluor Field is very much a Southern ballpark. One of the great pleasures of baseball in the South is role of the ballpark as a community gathering space -- the ultimate third place -- and chewing the fat at the ballgame is a time-honored tradition. There's an extra-wide concourse in the back of the grandstand, allowing for plenty of fans to stand around while others head to the concessions. A large plaza down the left-field line provides more space for just standing around, as does a picnic area down the right-field line.

The DLR Group even allowed space in the luxury boxes for folks who just want to stand around and watch the game. There are three rows of seating in each box, along with an empty row in the back. In theory, every attending the game via the luxury box can be outside, either sitting down or standing in the rear.

The open area down the right-field line contains a slew of picnic tables for groups and some nice spots for just standing around. Behind it is the 500 Club, a fancier seating area (we hesitate to call it a party deck) with teak furniture, overhead fans and a slew of microbrews on tap. (A grill will eventually be added to the area as well.) A display at the 500 Club lists all major leaguers who have hit 500 or more homers in their careers. The best views of downtown Greenville come from this area, though truthfully the Greenville skyline isn't that stunning.

DLR also made some design decision to fit the ballpark into the surrounding area. There are a few churches next to Fluor Field, and a brick exterior on the ballpark echoes the brick construction of the churches as well as nearby mills. (Indeed, both the ballpark and the adjacent office building are built from a lot of 500,000 bricks reclaimed from a former textile mill.) The ballpark is definitely not imposing from the exterior, leaving the spires of the churches to rule the local skyline.

When the new name of the team was announced before this season, many derided the Drive as a sop to the area's growing auto industry. The reality is a little different: Greenville leaders and citizens say they have the drive to succeed, and the ballpark is a key part of those efforts. In a town where a lot of work has been put into improving the quality of life, the Fluor Field is a critical component of those efforts. Greenville residents are very proud of their ballpark (indeed, our inbox was flooded with mail from locals and elected officials when we announced an upcoming visit) and their downtown, and that pride really shows. Combine all of this with an architecturally pleasing design, and you've got one of the great experiences of minor-league baseball.

CONCESSIONS
Three concession stands in the back of the concourse provide baseball ballpark fare: hot dogs, hamburgers, pop, beer and more. the hot dogs are an absolute bargain at $2.25. For those with more exotic tastes, fried cheesecake is on the menu, and a wide variety of microbrews are available in the 500 Club. It was refreshing to see a ballpark that wasn't dominated by a gazillion concession stands.

There's a small merchandise stand in the concourse, but the team store/ticket office is a renovated 1920s-era firehouse, complete with restored tin ceiling. It's worth a visit even if you don't intend on buying any Drive merchandise.

FOR THE KIDS
A sponsored children's play area is located down the left-field line. The big attraction for many kids is the grassy knoll in the left-field corner. It's a kid magnet: during our visit it was full of kids playing ball and families hanging out.

BEFORE/AFTER THE GAME
Visit the home formerly occupied by Shoeless Joe Jackson after he came home to Greenville; the team renovated it into a museum. The debate over Shoeless Joe and how involved he was in the Black Sox scandal of 1919 continues to be debated to this day; curiously, there's a lot more ambiguity about Jackson than you'd think when you discuss him with Greenville residents. Some suspect he did have some level of involvement in the scandal and don't think he's quite the hero some revisionists are now arguing. A block from the ballpark toward downtown is a statue of Shoeless Joe Jackson, ringed with bricks recycled from the original Comiskey Park.

(Speaking of Shoeless Joe, there's some misinformation floating around over exactly what went down when team ownership debated about calling the team the Greenville Joes. We've talked to several folks about it, and we've gotten the same account from those in a position to know: it was MiLB that killed the idea of the Greenville Joes, not MLB. MLB had given a provisional OK on the idea, but ultimately MiLB officials denied permission.)

Fluor Field is located on the south end of Main Street, and you should spend most of your time in Greenville perusing its many charms. A few blocks from there is Falls Park, which celebrates the origins of Greenville on two sets of waterfalls on the Reedy River. The park is completely new: a bland four-lane traffic bridge was replaced by a pedestrian walkway, Liberty Bridge, as well as terraced gardens, two restaurants and public gathering places. On a typical weekend the place is packed.

Though we'd recommend eating at the ballpark, there are plenty of other dining options. The aforementioned Joe Jackson statue is at West End Market, which features several casual and fine-dining restaurants. Downtown Greenville features more than 60 restaurants, many either on or a block or two away from Main Street. With a free WiFi zone and plenty of locally owned coffeeshops and retail establishments, you'll find downtown Greenville a great place for people watching or just hanging out.

WHERE TO STAY
There's a wide variety of hotels in the area, but most of them are located outside of the center city. Though there are hotels under development next to Falls Park, at this time there are only three hotels in downtown Greenville within a mile of the ballpark: the Westin Poinsett (120 S. Main St.), the Hyatt Regency (220 N. Main St.) and the Holiday Inn Express (407 N. Main St.). The Westin Poinsett is a four-star hotel, a historic property recently renovated to the tune of $25 million. (Alas, it was totally booked during our visit.)

PARKInG
Two churches across from the ballpark offer parking, as does the Drive on a few smaller lots, for $5. Three blocks away is the County Square, where there's free parking; the Drive run a trolley between it and the ballpark. Many walk to the game and then use the trolley afterwards to return to their car. There were plenty of concerns about parking and how it would impact the surrounding neighborhood, but it seems like game attendees are happy to use a lot and not park on a street.

NAMING RIGHTS
The ballpark was originally known as West End Field when it opened in 2006. In 2008 naming rights were sold to a Greenville firm, Fluor Corp.