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“I can truthfully say, in all my playing days … I never shirked a duty to baseball.” – Shoeless Joe Jackson

As the dogwoods start to bloom on North Main Street and the mild temps call you to Falls Park, the West End comes alive with the sounds of cheering crowds and the distinctive “CRACK” of baseball bats. When the Greenville Drive’s 2013 season opens Thursday, April 4th, it will be the latest chapter in this city’s rich baseball history. For more than a century, Greenville has been involved in a deeply committed love affair with “America’s Game”.

Long before The Drive…or even the G-Braves…came to town, the surrounding mill towns and their baseball teams had already given us local heroes whose prowess at bat was the stuff of legends. Undoubtedly the greatest of these near-mythical figures was Joe Jackson. Dubbed “Shoeless Joe” by fans, this humble man started his extraordinary baseball career right here in Greenville. The son of a sharecropper, Joe first went to work in textile mills as a child. As a young teen, he was recruited to join the mill’s baseball team as its youngest player. First positioned as a pitcher, Joe was quickly moved to left field, the position he would play for the rest of his career, after his massive fastball actually broke another player’s arm. But it was at bat that Joe really made his mark. Swinging his beloved “Black Betsy”, Joe set record after record – many of which stll stand today. His remarkable talent soon caught the eye of major league scouts. After playing with several professional teams, Joe was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1915. Over the next four seasons, he became Chicago’s favorite sports hero, leading the league in batting statistics and winning the admiration of fans and fellow players alike. Babe Ruth even modeled his batting style after Joe’s and Ty Cobb said Joe was “the finest natural hitter in the history of the game”. Joe’s legend began to crumble when he and seven of his teammates were accused of “throwing’ the 1919 World Series in what became known as the “Black Sox Scandal”. Despite the fact that Jackson had 12 hits (a Series record), a .375 batting average (the best of both teams) committed no errors, and he and the other seven were acquitted of fraud charges, the “Chicago Eight” were banned from baseball for life by Commissioner Kennesaw Landis. He never played professional baseball again after the 1920 season. After residing in various towns throughout the South, Joe returned to Greenville in 1933 where he and his wife opened a liquor store. Jackson remained a beloved citizen of his hometown until his death in 1951. He is buried next to his wife, Katie, in Greenville’s Woodlawn Memorial Park. Shoeless Joe continues to be a hero to baseball fans all over the world. He still hold franchise records for both the Indians and the White Sox for both triples in a season and career batting average. He was a pivotal character in the films “Eight Men Out” and “Field of Dreams”. In 1999, he was #35 on “The Sporting News'” list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was chosen by MLB fans as the 12th best outfielder of all time. Yet, despite vast amounts of evidence proclaiming his innocence and numerous pleas from fans, Greenville citizens, professional ball players and even members of Congress, Shoeless Joe continues to be blacklisted from baseball, thus preventing his well-deserved inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The house where Joe spent his final years can be visited by fans today. In 2006, his modest home was dismantled and moved from its original site on Wilburn Avenue to its current location on Field Street, across from Fluor Field, to become the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library. The house number was changed to 356 to reflect Jackson’s lifetime batting average. The not-for-profit museum displays records, photographs, films and personal artifacts from Joe’s baseball career and historic life. An impressive collection of books pertaining to baseball and its place in American culture, were mostly donated by baseball enthusiasts and are now housed in the room which once held Joe’s trophies. The admission to this poignant museum is free (although donations are greatly appreciated). It is open Saturdays from 10AM to 2PM.

More of Shoeless Joe’s legacy in Greenville is found Downtown. A life-size statue, depicting Joe in his White Sox uniform, swinging for the bleachers, can be seen outside the West End Market in Shoeless Joe Jackson Plaza. The statue was created in the lobby of City Hall in full view of visitors and locals alike. Artist Doug Young made this piece a true community project, allowing guests to participate in the creation of the work by kneading the clay used in the sculpture. The work was unveiled on July 13, 2002 in a ceremony attended by over 700 people. In West Greenville, just off Shoeless Joe Memorial Highway, is the Shoeless Joe Memorial Park. Once part of the thriving Brandon Mill community (Jackson’s childhood home), this 8 acre park property features a lighted baseball field, dugouts, a playground and picnic shelters and is located near where Joe played baseball as a boy.

When the Greenville Drive takes the field this spring, fans will have the chance to take part in Greenville’s historic baseball legacy. Since their 2005 move to Greenville, this Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox has been embraced by baseball fans and non-fans alike. Their home stadium at Fluor Field shares dimensions with their parent club’s major league field at Fenway Park. It even boasts its own “Green Monster” – complete with a manual scoreboard just like the original, and “Pesky’s Pole” in right field. Fluor Field was named “Ballpark of the Year” in 2006 by Baseballparks.com – beating out such legendary stadiums as St. Louis’ Busch Stadium. Although many fans lobbied to have the team name changed to “The Greenville Joes” in honor of our city’s favorite son, the name “Greenville Drive” reflects Greenville’s automotive history and ties to the industry through BMW and Michelin.

So join us Downtown to cheer on the home team and while you’re there, take in some of Greenville’s incredible baseball history. What could be more All-American? GO DRIVE!

For more info…
Greenville Drive: Greenville’s Class A minor league team opens their season on April 4th, with home games at Fluor Field also taking place at 7PM the 5th & 6th and a 4PM game on Sunday the 7th. Tickets are available for $7-$9 in advance or $8-$10 at the gate. For a full schedule, statistics and a team roster, visit http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t428

Shoeless Joe Jackson: To learn more about the amazing life and career of Greenville’s favorite baseball legend, visit http://www.shoelessjoejackson.com/

Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library: This wonderful museum, in Jackson’s former home, is open Saturdays, 10AM – 2PM. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. It is located on Field Street, across from Fluor Field. For more information, visit: http://www.shoelessjoejackson.org

Shoeless Joe’s Gravesite: Joe and his wife, Katie, are buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park, located at the corner of Wade Hampton Boulevard and Pleasantburg Drive in Greenville. To locate the grave, turn at the first right after entering the cemetery, then bear left at the “Y”. Stop approximately 30 feet short of the next intersection and look along the left curb for the Landers plot. Joe’s grave is marked with a flat marker 9 rows behind Landers. If you cannot find it, ask employees in the Administrative Office and they will show you.

Shoeless Joe Jackson Statue: This life-size statue of Joe is located in Shoeless Joe Jackson Plaza beside the West End Market. For more information, visit http://www.greenvillesc.gov/Culture/ArtinPublicPlaces/Shoeless.htm

Shoeless Joe Memorial Park: Located in West Greenville’s historic Brandon Mill Community, this recreation park features a lighted baseball park and dugouts. For more information, visit: http://greenvillerec.com/parks/4/shoeless-joe/



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