GREENVILLE — The answer is, yes, baseball will be back downtown this spring.
The lights of Fluor Field will be aglow and "Sweet Caroline" will echo. An occasional foul ball will land on the sidewalk during batting practice. Parking will be a bear in the West End again — but at this point, does it much matter?
Things will be a bit different since the Drive last took the field as summer 2019 came to a close.
The season will start a little late this year — first game is May 4 at home — and social-distancing protocols for COVID-19 will mean seating is more-limited until the spread of the coronavirus is slowed and immunity becomes more commonplace.
Also, the level of competition will be higher, as Major League Baseball's takeover of the minor leagues and accompanying shuffling and contraction of teams this winter vaulted the Boston Red Sox affiliate into the Southern division of "High-A" East League, which is essentially a new name for the former "Class A-Advanced" designation.
The Drive had played in the former Southern League as a lower Class A division team. The rival Columbia Fireflies and Charleston RiverDogs remained in the lower division while the Asheville Tourists stayed in High A.
There will be longer stretches that the team plays out of town.
This season will open with 12 straight home games against some new foes, the Bowling Green Hot Rods and the Brooklyn Cyclones.
The 120-game season is uniquely designed to minimize travel for the health and safety of players, the team announced in a Feb. 19 press release.
The organization is developing its protocols and will adjust as government and health officials advise. The space has been used for other events, such as high school graduations, during the pandemic shutdown.
“Our staff have worked diligently over the last 20 months to create a healthy and safe environment as we prepare to welcome fans back to Fluor Field,” General Manager Eric Jarinko said.
The 2020 season was to be a celebration of the Drive's 15th anniversary, which will now be honored this year.