This story was originally published in the Lake Murray edition of the Chronicle's Lakeside magazine for summer 2023.
Call it a match made in summer baseball heaven.
At least that’s how Lexington County Blowfish co-owner Bill Shanahan sees his team’s relationship the past eight years to the community it calls home.
Since 2014, the Coastal Plain League franchise has turned the former Wildcat Hollow football stadium for Lexington High School into a family-friendly, entertaining baseball experience with a capacity of 2,573 fans.
This has twice earned the summer collegiate wood bat team its leagues highest honor of Organization of the Year both, in 2015 and last season. The team also plays in a uniquely configured ballpark renovated for $3 million with an expanded concourse, lower bowl “Wrigley Field Style” box seating, a vintage grandstand with a roof canopy, an air-conditioned stadium club overlooking the field from the first base side that can be used for special events, administrative offices and concessions.
Most important, the dimensions used in the design of the field were taken from some of the country’s most iconic Major League Stadiums, including Fenway Park (302 feet — Right Field Foul Pole or Pesky Pole) Wrigley Field (394 feet — straight away centerfield), Yankee Stadium (318 feet — left field foul pole) and Dodger Stadium (55 feet — home plate to backstop).
“They have cemented themselves as a staple in Lexington County and the surrounding areas,” Coastal Plain Commissioner Justin Sellers said.
Also, for the second time in Lexington — and the third in the team’s existence — the Blowfish will host the league’s All Star Show festivities, set to take place July 18-19 and feature a Fan Fest, an All Star Skills Challenge, Scout Day activities and the 23rd annual All Star Game.
From providing an environment for college and future Major League Baseball players to hone their craft to providing a fun time for all ages through various promotions and games with team mascot Blowie, the Blowfish find themselves in more sound waters compared to their waning days in aging Capitol City Stadium in Columbia.
Shanahan — who purchased the team in 2005 with his wife, Vicki — reflected on those early days.
“Our first season was 2006 at. Columbia Capitol City Stadium,” he said. “And you know, it was to fill the void Minor League Baseball had left [in Columbia] and I saw a great, great opportunity in the community to be able to have summer collegiate baseball. You could have South Carolina Gamecocks in it, you could have Clemson players, you know, because when you think of like the minor leagues, when you go, you don't even know any of the players in most cases.”
“But here, summer collegiate baseball in the Coastal Plain League, not only do we get players from South Carolina, Clemson, College of Charleston, the Citadel, Coastal Carolina, you know, you name it. But a lot of these players also grew up in the area. So a lot of these high school kids that went on to college are coming back and get to play in their hometown, which is fabulous.”
As the team continued, all arrows pointed to Lexington County, Shanahan said, because of the growth of families on the county’s side of the Congaree river.
The team’s inaugural season in Lexington was arguably its most successful from an on-field standpoint. During that summer, fans witnessed a no-hitter thrown by Heath Holder, a playoff series victory and the Blowfish coming within one win of reaching the Petitt Cup final, which determines the champion of the league.
The 2015 season also provided a glance of those staple activities seen at Lexington County games. Mascot chases, special fireworks shows, honoring military families after the second inning and special game days such as “Dog Day Tuesday” and “Thirsty Thursday” are among some of the activities one can experience attending a Blowfish game.
“It worked out that this site had been sitting for a long time, as we all know, for five years after 40 years of high school football,” Shanahan said. “So there were a lot of great memories that were here, so we thought, well, let's just create new memories. And that's how Lexington County baseball stadium got started.
“Our goal from the very beginning was to provide great family fun and entertainment at a very cost-affordable price and most importantly, have local ownership — we care about our community. We are here. We live here. We are not an out-of-town owner. We care about Lexington, Lexington County and all the towns and cities that are in the area. Of course, we live on Lake Murray. So, we love Lake Murray.”
In recent years, the Blowfish have further solidified their relationship with Lexington County by making themselves omnipresent throughout the area.
This had included sponsoring such events as the Lexington County Chili Cook Off and the Shamrock Parade held in downtown Lexington.
Co-sponsored by Old Mill Brewpub and the Blowfish, the Cook Off held at the Icehouse Amphitheater has helped raise funds for charitable organizations through the judging of 15-20 gallon chili meals prepared by various entries.
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade featured “The American Soldier” as the grand marshal, represented by service members from nearby U.S. Army Fort Jackson in Columbia.
The Blowfish will also resume their tradition of inviting recruits to the stadium for a night of baseball. This year’s Fort Jackson Night is scheduled for June 24.
“Vicki and I made a commitment that we were going to go to every town council meeting and meet the mayors and the council of each town and city in Lexington County when we were moving over here and getting the stadium built,” Shanahan said. “Because we wanted to know them. We wanted them to know we're local. We care.”
Over the past few seasons, this has included a special promotion involving the team jerseys. As a tribute to the cities, towns and public service organizations in Lexington County, the Blowfish have had their names placed on the back of the jerseys, holding an online auction at the end of the season with the proceeds raised going toward various charities.
Other special jerseys used over the years include the team’s alter ego, the Lexington County Pancakes (with a spatula on the jersey, usually worn during matchups with the Macon Bacon). Last season, the Blowfish introduced Glowfish jerseys with neon blue and red letters and numbers on the back in illuminating colors along with a Palmetto State-shaped silhouette logo on the cap.
The Blowfish’s most notable jersey-related promotion took place this past year during Memorial Day weekend. The Blowfish wore special jerseys with the back displaying the names of 13 service members who were killed during a terrorist attack at a Kabul, Afghanistan airport in August 2021.
And this season, the team is partnering with the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation to become the “Hooties” on June 16 and raise money for the Lexington medical Center Foundation.
For all the community service and fan-friendly promotion, the organization’s central mission remains player development. A crucial part of accomplishing that goal are the host families.
Along with providing a room in a safe environment, the families that host players provide access to laundry and meals at their discretion.
Since moving to Lexington, a total of 54 players who’ve suited up for the Blowfish have been selected in the MLB draft. Shanahan’s favorite class is the 2021 team, which despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic during the summer of 2020, had eight players selected, including four from South Carolina (Brett Kerry, Brady Allen, Andrew Peter and Wes Clarke).
“We now have 10 former Blowfish alumni that have made it to the major leagues,” Shanahan said. “That's pretty amazing and if you think of the players that are in the minors right now that are playing, some of them are going to have a chance to make it.
“You're watching future professional baseball players, right here at Lexington County Baseball Stadium, that are going to go on and compete at the highest level.”
This season, the Blowfish are even more focused on ending their postseason drought. They will have a new head coach in K.C. Brown. The cousin of former University of South Carolina pitcher Jay Brown, K.C. started as a volunteer assistant for the Blowfish before becoming a full-time assistant this past year.
He also served in an interim capacity on occasion in place of Jonathan Johnson. Brown is the team's fifth head coach since 2018 and hopes to plant his roots at the position.
Looking towards the future, the Blowfish will look to continue to fulfill their role as Lexington County’s “home team.”
“Enthusiasm, as I always say, breeds more enthusiasm and crowds attract crowds,” Shanahan said. “And if we can get people excited about all the great things in Lexington County, more people will want to be here.”
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