Columbia’s new professional baseball team is coming from Savannah, Ga.
The Single-A franchise, which will open play in $37-million Spirit Communications Park next April, is a member of South Atlantic League and affiliated with the New York Mets.
Columbia team owner Jason Freier, whose Atlanta-based Hardball Capital operates minor league teams in three cities, announced Thursday that his group is moving the Savannah franchise to become the centerpiece of the 165-acre Bull Street development called Columbia Common.
The press conference took place next to the ballpark site, where construction has been underway since the start of the year.
“We’re extremely excited to be able to continue our partnership with the New York Mets and bring a tradition of quality baseball and first-class, affordable family entertainment to the Midlands,” Freier said. “We look forward to a long, bright future at Columbia Common and to doing our part to contribute to the success of the project and the vibrancy of downtown Columbia.”
The team’s contract to stay in Savannah’s aging Grayson Stadium expires Sept. 30, and city officials there have rejected Freier’s request to build a new ballpark. Columbia has committed $30 million toward building the ballpark here, with Hardball Capital kicking in the other $7 million.
Hardball Capital also runs teams in Chattanooga, which plays in the Double-A Southern League, and Fort Wayne, Ind., which plays in the Single-A Midwest League.
Columbia is a perfect geographic fit for the South Atlantic League, which is the home to teams in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. The two S.C. teams in the league are the Greenville Drive, a Boston Red Sox affiliate, and the Charleston RiverDogs, a New York Yankees affiliate.
Columbia’s previous professional team, the Columbia Mets/Capital City Bombers, also played in the SAL as a Mets affiliate.
Freier said the team’s name and colors will be unveiled next month. A name-the-team contest produced over 2,000 submissions, and Freier said the final choice will reflect Columbia’s uniqueness.
Construction on the surrounding development around the ballpark is ongoing. Bull Street developer Bob Hughes’ group is building a 120,000-square-foot retail and office building down the first base line, with restaurants or sports bars that would overlook the park.