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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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Well, March is upon us and Downtown Greenville is starting look even more GREEN than usual! For the Irish and the “wish they were Irish” this is the most wonderful time of the year! And Downtown has plenty of ways for even the youngest “wee ones” to join in on the St. Paddy’s Day fun!

Festivities for the “greenest ‘ of all holidays kick off with a St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, March 10th. Celtic revelers will don their green apparel to stroll down Main Street and celebrate all that is Irish! With an eclectic array of Irish music, step dance teams, Irish wolfhounds, setters and other Irish dog breeds, not to mention the obligatory leprechaun or two, this free event will delight one and all! The hour (or so) long parade begins at 1PM, with participants lining up on South Main Street at Wardlaw. For more information, call 288-2922.

After the parade, join the rest of Greenville’s Irish community and “Return to the Green”. For most, this free event signals the true start of the whirlwind of St. Paddy’s celebrations. Starting at 1PM, this family-friendly shindig features Irish step dancers, Irish music from the Greenville Pipes & Drum Corps among others, authentic Irish food, the ever-popular selection of domestic and Irish beer and more Irish accents (both real and faked) than you can shake a shillelagh at. This year’s shamrock soiree takes place at Fluor Field with festivities continuing until 6PM. For details, visit http://www.returntothegreensc.com.

The Children’s Museum gets into the St. Paddy’s Day spirit with some special events for all the lads & lassies. Wee ones ages 5 and under can make beautiful Mosaic Shamrocks from cut paper in TCMU’s “S is for Shamrock” art classes. The classes take place daily, at various times, from March 12 through March 16. The classes are free with museum admission and children must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, visit http://www.tcmupstate.org.

The Augusta Road Library welcomes all the little leprechauns to join them on Saturday, March 16, for “A Wee Bit of Blarney”. This St. Patrick’s Day celebration will feature Irish stories, holiday crafts and green refreshments. Reservations are strongly encouraged. Call 277-0161 for more information.

Also on March 16th, The Palmetto Children’s Charity invites you to join them at Fluor Field for the 2nd annual St. Patty’s Dash & Bash. Featuring certified 5k and 10k runs, as well as a children’s “Fun Run” and other kid-friendly activities, this family-centered event benefits local children’s charities like The Make-A-Wish Foundation, Let There Be Mom and Camp Spearhead. Although the event itself is free, there is a $25 registration fee for those wishing to participate in the 5k and 10k runs. Packet pickup is at Fluor Field from noon to 7PM on March 15 and 6:30AM to 7:30AM the day of the race, which begins at 8AM. To register and to find out more, visit http://www.stpattysdashandbash.com.

Another event seeking to make a difference is the annual St. Baldrick’s event at Larkin’s on the River. This annual event, which benefits childhood cancer research, is a much beloved St. Patrick’s Day tradition. Festivities begin at 1PM on March 17th. Whether you’re a spectator, a donor or one of those brave souls allowing their heads to be shaved in the name of charity, you cannot help but be moved and inspired by this event. For more information and to donate, visit http://www.stbaldricks.org.

So, there is no excuse not to head Downtown to shake your shamrocks a bit on St. Paddy’s Day! Just be sure to wear something green or you may get pinched! Details regarding more “adult-oriented” St. Patrick’s Day celebrations will be in next week’s blog. Until then, “May the Road rise up to meet You, & may the Wind be always at your back.” Happy St. Paddy’s Day!



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