When the Southern Conference’s baseball teams returned to Fluor Field this week for their championship tournament, they probably had an idea what to expect. After all, this is the fourth visit to Greenville the Southern Conference has made since 2010, when the conference membership voted to rotate the tournament between ballparks. What they might not have expected is the reception that Greenville prepared for them this time around.
“We have really gotten terrific support from the City of Greenville,” says the Southern Conference’s commissioner, Joe Iamarino. “Robin Wright [of VisitGreenvilleSC, the official sales and marketing organization of the City and County of Greenville] has been leading the cause to promote the tournament, and together with the efforts of Jordan Trollinger from our office, we’ve been able to put together a local organizing committee.”
That committee reached out to local businesses with special ticket offers. “They’ve done a good job of setting it up so that local businesses can buy packages that include a couple hundred tickets to the tournament, and those tickets in many cases are being turned over to youth groups in the community so we can get kids out to the tournament. We want to be a part of the community we’re playing in, and Greenville has really responded to what we’re trying to do.”
There are also a series of special events that the city and the Southern Conference have created to run in tandem with the tournament, including a $1 beer night on Thursday, a Youth Day on Friday – when kids in sports uniforms, whether they’re baseball, soccer or basketball, get in free with a paying adult – and a salute to the armed forces during Sunday’s game.
But perhaps the most special event the Conference will hold involves children from the Shriners Hospital. “We’ll have the kids from the hospital in the ballpark on Saturday, and they’re all going to be assigned to one of our teams,” Iamarino says. “The teams have all created videos for the kids welcoming them, and the kids are all going to throw out a ceremonial first pitch before the first game on Saturday. That ought to be a very special moment.”
Perhaps one of the reasons that Greenville pulled out so many stops for this year’s tournament is that the Southern Conference might be looking to change the way they do things. “We have not committed to anything beyond 2017 yet,” Iamarino says. “And so this fall we’ll have a meeting to go over that with the schools’ athletic directors as to whether we want to continue with some type of rotation, or whether we want to look to have a more permanent site, wherever that might be.”
And what about making that permanent site Greenville? “There’s been a lot to find appealing about Greenville for this tournament,” Iamarino says. “You’re starting with a neutral field. Nobody plays their home games at Fluor, though I know that Furman and Wofford play a sprinkling of non-conference games there. The coaches like that aspect of it. It’s also a very central location. It’s easy for a lot of our schools and fans to get there in a two- or three-hour ride.”
And let’s not forget the quality of the field itself. “It’s obviously a very unique and distinct ballpark,” Iamarino says, “one of the best in the minor leagues. So you couple the support that we’ve received from the community, the uniqueness of the ballpark, the location, and there are a lot of positives.”
All nine Southern Conference teams (including Furman University, The Citadel, Western Carolina and Wofford College) are participating in the tournament, with seeds 8 and 9 participating in a single-elimination game last Tuesday. The next rounds were double-eliminations, leading to the championship game this Sunday at 1 p.m.
For more information, visit bit.ly/socon-greenville.