The Charleston RiverDogs were ahead of the curve, says team president Dave Echols.

He says when Riley Park opened its doors in 1997 as home of the RiverDogs and The Citadel baseball team, it wasn’t just welcoming in fans. It also ushered in an arms race that still has each of South Carolina’s minor league parks pushing to provide the best fan experience on the other side of the turnstiles.

It’s a healthy competition, but competition nonetheless.

“We were at the forefront, and I think that helped parks in other communities,” he said. “In turn, I think the results have been good for South Carolina.”

There are four affiliated minor league teams in the Palmetto State: The RiverDogs, who are the Class A South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Yankees; the Greenville Drive, the Class A SAL team for the Boston Red Sox; the Columbia Fireflies, the Class A SAL affiliate of the New York Mets; and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Chicago Cubs’ Class A-Advanced Carolina League team.

By the numbers

A whopping $37 million was spent on Spirit Communications Park, the home of the Fireflies that opened its gates in 2016.

“We were able to emphasize and expand the areas where we saw the greatest success,” said John Katz, president of the Columbia team.

By comparison, the RiverDogs play in a $19.5 million stadium that was built along the Ashley River in Charleston in 1997. The Pelicans’ home, TicketReturn.com Field in Myrtle Beach, cost $12 million and was completed in 1999.

And $14 million was spent on Greenville’s Fluor Field. Stadium construction was completed in 2006.

Katz said the Columbia team drew inspiration from other minor league parks, including Parkview Field, an Indiana stadium that houses the San Diego Padres’ Class A team.

“In the end, our design and construction teams built one of the most beautiful, fan-friendly multi-use venues in the country,” he said.

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marsh Riley ballpark

Spectators at Riley Park enjoy the marsh views while kids play in the bounce house. Riley Park is one of four minor league ballparks in the state, competing with the others in offering the best fan experience. (Wade Spees/Staff)

‘Amusement park philosophy’

While Columbia is celebrating its new stadium, the other South Carolina parks have adapted well to the times.

Andy Milovich, the president of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, said the team does small-scale work to keep things updated at TicketReturn.com Field. The last major set of renovations came in 2007 when the team put up a new scoreboard, ticket office, and concessions area.

Other features include a handicap-accessible playground and unique items at the concession stand, like chicken and waffle bites.

“It mirrors the amusement park philosophy, like adding a new Batman ride,” Milovich said. “It’s about looking for recreational spaces that add a more social experience to the park.”

The Greenville Drive organization has also made strides to maximize the fan experience. After spending $12 million on stadium construction, team president Craig Brown said another $6 million was spent over the first 10 years, and the team will spend another $6 million in the next few months.

Priding itself as a replica of the famed Fenway Park in Boston, Brown said renovations have included seating atop the Green Monster in left field. The team also added a rooftop venue similar to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

And behind the Green Monster sits a 4,000-square-foot event space, known as the Champions Club.

“We wanted to bring it up to date and make sure it’s the same economic development catalysis over the next 20 years,” Brown said.

As for the Charleston RiverDogs, who are celebrating their 21st year at The Joe, renovations over the past few years have included a new scoreboard and video board.

Each of the stadiums have upgraded their event spaces and have their own sets of promotions, such as the RiverDogs Bark for your Brew, an event that allows people and pets to sample dog-friendly craft beer.

Arms race or state pride?

Milovich took the high road when asked about the competition among teams.

“I think South Carolina is blessed with stadium operators who do a good job,” he said. “I don’t look at it as a competition. It’s more about doing our best to draw fans and keep the good times coming.”

The team presidents have developed friendships with each other, and some are openly more competitive than others.

Echols has no problem stating that the stakes are high in South Carolina. As the state’s first minor league team, he said the RiverDogs look to provide the best overall fan experience at Riley Park.

Brown said the same about Fluor Field in Greenville.

“There’s the obvious competitiveness on the field, and we all work hard to be the best,” he said. “That, in turn, makes us all better.”

And as the proverbial new kid on the block, Spirit Communications Field will look to stay ahead of the curve, said Katz.

Still, he wishes nothing but the best for his colleagues.

“We want Charleston, Greenville and Myrtle Beach to enjoy continued success. Our collective successes elevate South Carolina’s MiLB spotlight,” he said.

The competition stiffens

As soon as next year, the four South Carolina ball clubs could be welcoming a fifth.

North Augusta, a growing city just a few miles from Augusta, which is located on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, has granted final approval for Project Jackson — a $200 million economic development effort that includes $40 million for a baseball stadium.

The ballpark would be the new home of the Augusta GreenJackets, the Class A team for the San Francisco Giants. The move to South Carolina will bring new streams of revenue and add another layer of sports and entertainment to the state, said Echols.

"I see it as a strengthening of minor league baseball here," he said. "They will be a South Carolina team and we certainly welcome them here."

Palmetto State Ballparks

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skyboxes Riley ballpark

The Charleston RiverDogs, the Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees, play at Riley Park. (Wade Spees/Staff)

RILEY PARK

Team: Charleston RiverDogs

League: South Atlantic League, Class A

Affiliate: New York Yankees

Opened: 1997

Cost: $19.5 million

Capacity: 6,000

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Fluor Field

The Greenville Drive, the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, play their home games at Fluor Field. (Photo provided)

FLUOR FIELD

Team: Greenville Drive

League: South Atlantic League, Class A

Affiliate: Boston Red Sox

Opened: 2006

Cost: $14 million

Capacity: 5,700

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Spirit Communications Park

Spirit Communications Park is the home of the Columbia Fireflies, the Class A club for the New York Mets. Photo provided

SPIRIT COMMUNICATIONS FIELD

Team: Columbia Fireflies

League: South Atlantic League, Class A

Affiliate: New York Mets

Opened: 2016

Cost: $37 million

Capacity: 7,500

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TicketReturn.com Field

TicketReturn.com Field is home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Class A affilate of the Chicago Cubs. File/Provided

TICKETRETURN.COM FIELD

Team: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

League: Carolina League, Class A-Advanced

Affiliate: Chicago Cubs

Opened: 1999

Cost: $12 million

Capacity: 6,600

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.