COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Columbia Fireflies embark on an exciting new venture. The organization is delighted to affiliate the franchise with the Kansas City Royals.
“One of the things that stayed with me all this time is just the class,” said Fireflies President John Katz about the Royals organization. “[Over the years] they have also treated our people with class, grace, and courtesy. We’re excited to have them in the home dugout.”
The Royals feel like they hit one out the park landing in Columbia.
“What we know about Columbia, this franchise, it is truly one of the model franchises in minor league baseball,” said Dayton Moore, Royals’ Senior Vice President-Baseball Operations/General Manager.
Segra Park and the city of Columbia was a top destination for the Royals once Major League Baseball opted to cut minor league affiliates. The Royals knew shortly after that they’d need a new home for their Low-A club.
“Venturing into new partnerships is somewhat scary,” added J.J. Picollo, Vice President/Assistant General Manager-Player Personnel of Kansas City Royals.
Picollo had the opportunity to visit Columbia back in 2017. He returned home to tell those in his office that Segra Park might be the best facility in all of minor league baseball. So, partnering with Columbia quickly moved to the top of their list.
Columbia and Kansas City recently signed a 10-year Player Development License through 2030. That means the Capital City will enjoy Royals baseball for years to come.
“Being in a market [Kansas City] like ours, we rely greatly on growing our own talent, transitioning players through the minor leagues to help us win championships at the major league level,” said Moore.
Beyond the fantastic facility the Fireflies provide, the Royals front office points to the Columbia community.
“The other really important part is the people that our players around,” said Picollo. “It’s one thing to have a nice ballpark, but you need to be surrounded by people that share the same values and vision for the game of baseball. And understand what it takes to nurture young players. This is just a stop in their journey, but it’s going to be a great stop because of the people they are around and the facilities that they are in.
“The environment is so important for the players,” mentioned Moore. “It’s a two-way street. The fans show up to the ballpark, and they want to be inspired by the players based on how they play and the effort that they give. How those players interact in the community.”
“I’m old school. If the bases are 90-feet apart, and it’s 60-feet-six-inches from pitchers mound to home plate, that’s what I’ve always looked for. For me, personally, it’s all about the environment. You want to inspire people to come to the ballpark. Get our players in the community and help grow the game in the community.”
Not only do the Royals value raising first-class citizens off the field, but they also create fierce competitors on it.
“We play an aggressive style,” said Picollo. “If you recall the 2014 & 2015 teams, it’s run the bases well. Play fundamentally sound baseball. Dirt balls we’re moving up first-to-third, we’re going to challenge the outfielders. We encourage our minor league players to make as many mistakes, aggressive mistakes, as they can. So they learn what their limitations or ceiling might be as a major league player. I think you’ll enjoy watching the way we play.”
Picollo perhaps picked up on this style of play while suiting up for former Gamecocks head baseball coach and two-time College World Series champion Ray Tanner. Piccolo played for Tanner at North Carolina State in the early 1990s.
“I learned quite a bit,” Picollo reflected. “He’s a tenacious competitor. He wants to win. It was very evident. You understand those things a little bit better as you get older. You understand why things were done in certain ways. It’s not surprising he’s a Hall of Fame coach.”
The Gamecock ties to the Fireflies-Royals partnership do not end with Tanner and Piccolo. Kansas City All-Star second baseman, Whit Merrifield, will forever be a Gamecock legend for his World Series heroics in Omaha in the 2010 title run.
“He represents what is good and very important about our game,” said Moore. “Whit’s a special guy. He plays the game the right way. He’s been so inspirational to our entire organization and a generation of players.”
Katz jokingly remarked that Fireflies fans might want to rename the team to the Columbia Merrifield’s. Given the love Gamecock fans have for Whit, it certainly would play well.