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Touring the Minors: Columbia

Next up on our trip is Columbia, home of the Columbia Fireflies!

Segra Park
Steve Sypa

Home to roughly 132,000 residents, Columbia, is the capital and second-largest city in South Carolina. Built at the confluence of the Saluda and Broad Rivers, which merge and form the Congaree River, Columbia is known for being “Famously Hot”, as its tourism bureau says, thanks to its elevation and location. Originally chartered by the South Carolina Legislature in 1786, the city boasts a great deal of history; Columbia’s First Baptist Church hosted the South Carolina Secession Convention in 1860, effectively marking the beginning the Civil War.

Organized baseball has been present in the city since the late 1800s. Along with the Charleston Sea Gulls, Charlotte Hornets, and Winston-Salem Blue Sluggers, the Columbia Senators were a founding member of the original South Atlantic League of 1892, which only operated for a single season. When the South Atlantic League reformed in 1904, the Columbia Skyscrapers were a charter member, along with the Augusta Tourists, Charleston Sea Gulls, Jacksonville Jays, Macon Highlanders, and Savannah Pathfinders. Columbia fielded a team uninterrupted until 1918, when the league paused due to World War I. They resumed until 1924, as the Columbia Baseball Association folded in the middle of the 1923 season and forfeited their franchise rights. Baseball returned in 1925 and resumed until 1930, when the South Atlantic League went on hiatus for five years thanks to the Great Depression. When the league resumed operation, baseball returned to Columbia. Over the decades, the team name changed from the original Skyscrapers multiple times, playing as the Gamecocks, Commies, Comers, Senators.

In 1937, the team became affiliated with the Boston Bees. The relationship lasted for just one season, and in 1938, the team became affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, changing their name to the Columbia Reds. The affiliation between the two teams lasted until 1955, with a South Atlantic League-wide pause in 1943, 1944, and 1945 due to World War II. Cincinnati ended their affiliation with the team in 1956, moving to Savannah, Georgia, and Columbia became affiliated with the Kansas City Athletics instead, playing as the Columbia Gems. The arrangement only lasted two seasons, as the league contracted from eight teams to six in 1958, with Columbia and Columbus, Georgia both losing their franchises. The Cincinnati Reds returned in 1960, but the arrangement was short-lived and ended in 1961.

The City of Columbia went without a baseball team for roughly twenty years, until the Mets moved their South Atlantic League affiliate from Shelby, North Carolina, to Columbia. In 1993, the team rebranded as the Capital City Bombers, honoring the 80 airmen who participated in the Doolittle Raid. The Capital City Bombers remained in Columbia for another 12 years, until the Mets changed their Low-A affiliate to Hagerstown. The Boston Red Sox changed their affiliations from Augusta to Columbia and moved the franchise to Greenville, creating the Greenville Drive. The city remained without baseball until the Mets returned in 2016, relocating from Savannah back to Columbia, creating the Columbia Fireflies.

The Columbia Fireflies play at Segra Park, formerly known as Spirit Communications Park. Seating roughly 9,000, the stadium opened in 2016 when the franchise arrived and won Ballpark Digest’s Ballpark of the Year in its inaugural year. Located on a 181 acre parcel of land in downtown Columbia formerly owned by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health- the ruins of the historic Babcock Lunatic Asylum and State Hospital are located just next door- the construction of Segra Park spearheaded the development of the entire area, known as the BullStreet District, as Bull Street is a major thoroughfare located nearby.

In addition to serving traditional ballpark fare, the stadium has multiple food carts spaced throughout the concourse offering specialty foods, such as BBQ, Mexican, and Italian. On any given night, over 50 varieties of domestic and craft beers are available, including the Segra Park house beer, Luminescent Lager, made by River Rat Brewery, located in the city.

The main brick façade entrance to the stadium opens into a wide concourse with a great sightline of home plate. The concourse wraps around the stadium, featuring two spacious outfield berms in left and right field. Entertainment and music are provided between innings, and diversions for younger children can be found in left field.

Mason the Firefly has been the official Columbia Fireflies mascot since the team played their first game. A furry creature called a “Whatsit”, Mason lived on the outskirts of Columbia in his younger days and at some point in his youth, lived in Congaree National Park. While there, he encountered fireflies for the first time in his life and was amazed by and drawn to the synchronized, pulsating glow of the insects. They adopted him as one of their own, and over the years, they came to think of him as one of their own. They named him Mason because, just like so many fireflies had found their homes in mason jars, he found a home with the fireflies in the park. When the team moved to the city and adopted the Fireflies name, Mason left his forest home and moved into Spirit Communications/Segra Park.