PRESS RELEASE – Hardball Capital, the New York Mets and the City of Columbia today announced that Columbia’s new Minor League Baseball team will be the South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets. The Mets affiliate currently plays in Savannah, GA. While located in Savannah, the team has won ten South Atlantic League titles, most recently in 2013, and developed over 100 future major leaguers.
Mets General Manger Sandy Alderson was on hand for the announcement. “We are excited about returning to Columbia where we had a presence for over two decades (1983-2004),” said Alderson. “So many of the top Mets stars, like current team captain David Wright, got their start in Columbia. The plans for Spirit Communications Park look spectacular, and we can’t wait to develop the next generation of Mets Major Leaguers here.”
Alderson has roots in the Midlands, spending part of his youth in Sumter. Alderson’s father, an Air Force pilot, was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base from 1957-1961. Among his fond memories of Columbia is attending an exhibition game between the Reds and the Braves in 1958. While spending his formative years in the Midlands, Alderson became (and remains) a big fan of the USC Gamecocks.
“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,” said Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier. “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.”
As members of the South Atlantic League, Columbia’s newest home town team will play against rivals such as the Greenville Drive, Charleston River Dogs, Rome Braves, Augusta Greenjackets and Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Spirit Communications Park, the new home of the team, is currently under construction and slated to open in March of 2016. In addition to Spirit Communications Park, Columbia Common will be home to residential and office buildings as well as retail and hotel uses. The first commercial project is under construction along the first base line of the ballpark. It was recently announced that the entire Columbia Common development will be a “gigabit community” with ultra high-speed data service provided by Spirit Communications.
“We’re very excited because not only is today about welcoming Minor League Baseball back to the City of Columbia, it’s about celebrating the new spirit of energy and enthusiasm sweeping across our city like never before,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. “Something special is happening in Columbia and this team is a big part of it.”
With today’s announcement, Hardball Capital also formally introduced John Katz as Team President. Katz, a 23-year veteran Minor League operator, has been with Hardball Capital for the better part of a decade, including the past five-plus seasons as President of the Savannah Sand Gnats.
“Columbia is a wonderful city. I have had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time here over the past year and my family and I look forward to becoming permanent residents,” said Katz. “I’m excited to help bring professional baseball back to the Capital City, and we are looking forward to enjoying everything the Midlands has to offer—such as the wonderful culture, music scene and the arts.”
Later this summer and through the fall and winter, the team will be “staffing up” in anticipation of the opening of Spirit Communications Park. “We are building our Columbia operation as we speak, and will be expanding our full-time staff to approximately 30 before Opening Day,” said Freier.
With the affiliate and league established, Hardball Capital is continuing the process of finalizing the name, logo and brand identity for Columbia’s new team. Hardball Capital has filtered over 2,000 name submissions, and the process is nearly complete. The team plans to unveil the name, logos, uniforms and cap designs in the near future.
With professional baseball leaving Savannah after this season, Hardball Capital has offered to work with the City of Savannah in an effort to continue to provide baseball in Savannah and assure that Historic Grayson Stadium is put to suitable use.