In 1907, six cities across the Palmetto State joined to form the South Carolina League – class-D Minor League Baseball. Within a year, the league found itself reduced to four cities, then completely disintegrated the year after. South Carolina professional baseball carried on throughout the next century, in metropolises from the Upstate to the Lowcountry, with franchises often coming then going soon after. Today, three teams carry on the rich tradition of South Carolina baseball: the Greenville Drive, the Charleston RiverDogs, and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
Professional baseball in the Upstate’s Appalachian foothills dates back a century, when the Greenville Mountaineers played in the South Carolina League’s inaugural season. In the spring of 1908, Greenville switched into the Carolina Association and changed nicknames to the Spinners, a name that endured over thirty seasons in four different leagues under multiple major league affiliations. The name ‘Spinners’ paid tribute to the city’s textile industry – an industry with strong ties to baseball. In the late 19th-century, when mill workers were not busy establishing Greenville as a major textile center, they played Textile League baseball. This local bonding and competition was widely popular through the 1950’s, around the same time the Spinners nickname was discarded, too.
The current Greenville team hails from Columbia, where it was based since 1983. After ten seasons as the Columbia Mets, the team distinguished itself from most other professional sports franchises by changing not only its nickname, but its city name. In 1993, the Capital City Bombers took the field, recognizing the city being the Palmetto capital and its strong ties to military aviation; Jimmy Doolittle trained fighter pilots in Columbia during World War II.
After retaining the Bombers nickname for the first season for logistical reasons, Greenville management created an identity of its own. The team pondered various nicknames: the Fire Ants, the Grits, even the Joe’s in honor of local legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who is banned from baseball for his part in the infamous Black Sox Scandal, when the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series. However, in the end, management settled on Drive. “The people of the community of Greenville are a driving force which has led to the revitalization of the city and the Upstate,” Director of Media Relations Eric Jarinko explained via e-mail.
In mascot form, the Drive image is manifested in, of all things, a frog. As part of a contest in local elementary schools, Reedy Rip’It the frog was designed by Angela Hembree, a fifth grader at Wren Elementary School in Piedmont. Born and raised in nearby Reedy River Falls, Reedy now resides at West End Field. With his red hat worn askew and Drive jersey buttoned up, Reedy can be seen hopping around the field between innings to the delight of all Greenville fans.
Charleston, considered one of America’s most historic cities, also touts a rich history of professional baseball. The only South Carolinian city to field a team before the turn of the twentieth-century, Charleston has honored many of its trademark traditions since its inaugural season in 1886. The franchise spent most of its early seasons as the Sea Gulls, highlighting the importance of Charleston as a port city – the fourth largest container seaport in North America. For a short stint in the 1920’s, the team was dubbed the Pals – short for Palmettos, the fan palm-leafed tree that is South Carolina’s state tree and the state nickname. More recently, from 1985-1993, Charleston assumed the name of Rainbows, paying homage to “Rainbow Row” – a strip of antique waterfront houses painted with an assortment of pastel hues.
In 1994, management decided to give some bite to the team nickname, changing to the RiverDogs. Chosen from a citywide contest, the RiverDogs nickname pays tribute to the team playing on the banks of the Ashley River. As for the significance of ‘Dogs’ – there is none; “We wanted a unique name,” Director of Media Relations Andy Solomon says. Since the team’s first pitch, their logo has remained the same: a capital ‘C’ with an angry dog in the middle, splintering a bat with its teeth.
Fortunately, Charleston’s mascot pair – Charlie T. RiverDog and Chelsea – have smiles much bigger than their bites. While their relationship status is unknown, Charlie and Chelsea share plenty in common: shagginess, acting goofy, and RiverDogs baseball. Both live at Riley Park, home field of the RiverDogs and largest doghouse in all of South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach is South Carolina’s newcomer to professional baseball, getting its first team only twenty years ago in 1987. After losing the appropriately named Myrtle Beach Hurricanes following the ’92 season, baseball-hungry locals formed the Horry County Citizens For Baseball, campaigning for a new team. In 1997, their wishes were granted when the Pelicans landed on the Grand Strand.
After nine seasons donning teal and black, Myrtle Beach received a total makeover this season. management created a tri-color scheme of Midnight Blue, Sun Gold, and Pelicans Blue. As Pelicans radio broadcaster and media relations manager Ryan Ibbotson recounts, General Manager North Johnson was inspired by the San Diego Chargers retro jerseys after watching a Monday Night Football contest. So what exactly is Pelicans Blue? “Perfect for Myrtle Beach,” Ibbotson answers. “It’s so fresh…with more of a beach feel.”
Keeping up with his team’s new look, Splash the Pelicans mascot hit up the gym and plastic surgeon this past off-season. On Opening Night, a limousine drove onto Coastal Federal Field, and out jumped Splash – sharper, sleeker, and still the biggest bird on Myrtle Beach. Sporting giant silver-framed sunglasses and a Pelicans Blue jersey with the number ‘0,’ the white-feathered bird is the face of the franchise.
“But everyone loves Dinger,” adds Ibbotson. A ten-year old yellow Labrador, Dinger has won the hearts of fans as the Pelicans co-mascot. For the past seven years, Dinger has mouth-delivered a basket of baseballs to the umpire twice each game, and laps around the bases to celebrate when his favorite team wins.
With the baseball season underway, all three teams are seeking to bring South Carolina its first baseball championship since Myrtle Beach won the Carolina League in 2000. Championships or not, however, everyone young and old should get out to the ballparks sometime this summer and enjoy some South Carolina baseball – rich in history, rich in fun.