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Pittsburgh Pirates: Down on the Farm, Minor league spotlight-Greensboro Grasshoppers

Examining the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league affiliate Greensboro Grasshoppers organization.

Greensboro Grasshoppers
First National Bank Field, Greensboro, NC
(Photo by Matt Clark)

Greensboro, North Carolina has long been revered as a baseball city in America. With roots tracing back to 1902 when cotton broker Leon Brandt organized the first team, Greensboro has been at the forefront of America’s pastime ever since.

While the initial attempts to get a team off the ground ended in failure, with Brandt’s teams folding in the middle of the 1902 season and then again following his second attempt at creating a team in 1905, this time after a full season, Greensboro was able to field a team almost perennially from 1908 on, with the exception of a few brief hiatuses.

The city was void of baseball from 1919-1920 while America was fully engaged in World War I. They would move to Asheville in 1935 but would return to Greensboro in 1942. Following the 1968 season, there would be no baseball in the city for a decade, as the popularity of baseball waned with Americans and minor league programs struggled to survive.

However, in 1979 a team would be formed again in Greensboro and an organization has existed in the city ever since. With the city providing baseball fans with entertainment for 95 of the past 118 years, Greensboro represents a city with a strong connection to the game of baseball.

Currently, the Grasshoppers are a Low-A minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, after signing a two-year agreement to be affiliated with the franchise in 2018. However, the team has been affiliated with a number of other major league organizations during its 118-year existence.

Prior to its affiliation with the Pirates, Greensboro was the minor league affiliate for the Miami Marlins (2003-2018), New York Yankees (1958-1968, 1980-1984, 1990-2002), Cincinnati Reds (1979, 1988-89), Boston Red Sox (1941-1942, 1953-1957, 1985-1987), Chicago Cubs (1951-1952), Philadelphia Phillies (1945), and the St. Louis Cardinals (1932-1934).

Having played a prominent role in minor league baseball for as long as Greensboro has, the city has seen a number of great baseball players play for their city. Former Greensboro players who would go onto prominence in the major leagues include the likes of Mariano Rivera, Jose Fernandez, Derek Jeter, Mike Lowell, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Don Mattingly, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Curt Shilling, and Mel Stottlemyre.

Current Major League Baseball stars who have played for Greensboro include Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto, Chris Paddock, Marcell Ozuna, Robinson Cano, Brad Hand, and Giancarlo Stanton, who holds the franchise record for most home runs in a season with 39 for Greensboro in 2008.

While the team has been known as the Grasshoppers since opening its new stadium in 2005, it has had a number of other names during its existence. Prior to the Grasshoppers, the Greensboro team was known previously as the Bats (1994-2004), Hornets (1979-93), Patriots (1911-1917, 1920-1926, 1928-1934, 1945-1951, 1955-1957, 1968), Yankees (1958-1967), Pirates (1952-1954), Red Sox (1941-1942), Champs (1908-1910), and Farmers (1902 & 1905).

The Patriots nickname was the longest-tenured name of a Greensboro baseball team. The nickname was given in reference to the patriots that fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro during the Revolutionary War. During the battle, Major General Nathaneal Green (for whom the city is named after) and his American forces would defeat their British counterparts led by Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis.

While the Patriot nickname celebrates a major American war victory, winning in Greensboro isn’t only associated with historic war battles. The Greensboro baseball teams captured division titles in 1980-1982, 1985, 1993, 1997, and 2011-2012. They would win league titles from 1980-1982 and again in 2011.

Currently, the Grasshoppers are a member of the South Atlantic League and are in the Northern Division of the league. Previously, they have been members of the Piedmont League (1920-1932), North Carolina State League (1913-1917) and Carolina Association (1908-1912). The Grasshoppers are tied for the most championships in South Atlantic League history with four league titles.

Greensboro Grasshoppers Baseball
First National Bank Field, Greensboro, NC

The Greensboro baseball teams have called three parks home during their existence. Their first playing field was Cone Park where the team would play until it moved to World War Memorial Stadium in 1926. The team would play there for almost 80 years until the opening of their current stadium.

In 2005, Greensboro would open the new $28.1 million First National Bank field and would rebrand itself as the Grasshoppers. The park provides seating for 7,499 fans and they would regularly pack the part as they would lead the league in attendance in 2017. While hosting the ACC tournament in 2012, the stadium would set an attendance record of 10,299 during a game between the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University.

First National Bank Field is located in downtown Greensboro and is easily accessed by fans. The stadium is set in a beautiful scenic setting with the city skyline as its backdrop. The 30-foot-wide concrete concourses that surround the stadium allow the fan an excellent view throughout the entire stadium.

Family atmosphere
Greensboro Grasshoppers

In addition to providing great views to baseball enthusiasts, the stadium is attractive to those who are seeking an excellent family event. With a kid-safe playground located near right field, a black Labrador dog as the acting batboy, lush picnic areas, a giant grasshopper mascot name Guilford making rounds around the stadium and the ability for children to run the bases after the game, this stadium is the perfect venue for young baseball fans.

With three main concession areas, outdoor sports bar, grandstand party deck in the left-field corner, 16 luxury suites, and a plethora of fan-centric themed games, Greensboro has something to offer everyone from the hardcore baseball enthusiast to those who are just being introduced to this great game.

Young fans
Greensboro Grasshoppers

If the serene scenic views, family atmosphere, and easily accessible venues weren’t enough to entice you to come to see the hidden gem that is Greensboro baseball, perhaps the opportunity to see some of the top Pittsburgh Pirates minor league prospects will serve as motivation to catch a game.

Currently, Pirates top 20 prospects Quinn Priester (6), Sammy Siani (7), Ji-Hwan Bae (8), Braxton Ashcroft (12) and Steven Jennings (17) are all projected to spend time with Greensboro during the upcoming season.

With the addition of some of the top prospects in the Pirates system, along with some who have already been playing at Greensboro, the team looks to improve upon its 34-35 finish last year that saw them finish in 4th place in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League.

With so many reasons to visit one of the best organizations in minor league baseball, Pittsburgh Pirates fans and baseball fans in general, should take advantage of a fantastic stadium and watch a game this season in Greensboro. Having been to the park a number of times, I can personally vouch that you will thoroughly enjoy your baseball experience at First National Bank Field.

Greensboro Grasshoppers
(Photo by Matt Clark)