AUGUSTA (WJBF) – For three decades Lake Olmstead Stadium has provided the soundtrack of summer in the CSRA, but after 30 years of professional baseball at The Lake the Augusta GreenJackets will move across the river at the end of this season.
“Every time I pull in the parking lot it’s a special feeling,” said Scott Skadan, the GreenJackets’ Public Address Announcer for the last 20 years. “The sounds. You hear the crack of the bat. It’s an intimate ballpark.”
“When this stadium first opened, most people don’t know it was state of the art,” remembered Ed Presnell, who’s had season tickets on the first base line since pro baseball returned to Augusta with the Pirates in 1988. “When this stadium was built I came down here and hand-picked these seats because of the view and the accessibility.”
“What you see again is a cool situation for Augusta to come together and cheer on its team,” said fellow season ticket holder Ed Turner.
Originally built as Heaton Stadium in 1988, it marked the return of professional baseball to Augusta after a quarter century’s absence.
“It made us relevant,” said Turner.
It was renovated to its current form for the 1995 season and has since played host to some of the greats of the game including Derek Jeter and John Smoltz on the opposing side. The GreenJackets have featured future Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants greats Pablo Sandoval, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Hanley Ramirez and Jon Lester. Maybe the most decorated former GreenJacket is San Francisco Giants four-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion Madison Bumgarner.
“We loved when Bumgarner would pitch because we knew we’d get out of here in two hours,” Skadan remembered.
But it’s doubtful that any former GreenJacket has more of a special connection to Lake Olmstead than Charlie Culberson. He went on to play for the Giants and Rockies and is currently with the Dodgers organization. Back in 2009 he met his future wife at the ballpark, the former Sarah O’Rourke of Evans.
“I met her when I played there in 2009,” Culberson said. “Her whole family is there so in the offseason we’re there every other weekend seeing family and friends so Augusta is like home to me.”
But mostly the excitement of what lies ahead across the Savannah River seems to outweigh any sadness over the curtain falling on Lake Olmstead after this season, at least for now.
“The experience of the game is fun,” Skadan said. “It’s just going to go to a whole other level with the new stadium.”
“People are going to be amazed when the gates open and reality comes to life on a baseball field,” said Presnell.
“When (the last game) happens it might be a bit teary-eyed. Who knows?”
The city hasn’t decided what will become of the stadium after the GreenJackets move out. The park has also hosted concerts, including an upcoming 80s reunion show this coming August, charity events and festivals.
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The GreenJackets have also announced several promotions this summer to commemorate the final season at Lake Olmstead Stadium, including:
Augusta Pirates 80s Weekend (July 7-9):
- Friday, July 7th – Augusta Pirates throwback hat giveaway
- Saturday, July 8th – 3-D Fireworks, Augusta Pirates Jersey off the Back Auction
- Sunday, July 9th – Turn back the clock $1 Dog Day
90s Celebration Weekend (August 25-27)
- Friday, August 25th – Jon Lester Bobblehead Giveaway
- Saturday, August 26th – 90s Night/Fireworks
- Sunday, August 27th – Road To The Show Poster Giveaway
Last Homestand At The Lake (September 2-4)
- Friday, September 2nd – Commemorative T-shirt giveaway for last homestand at The Lake
- Monday, September 4th – Final regular season game at Lake Olmstead
A full list can be found at greenjacketsbaseball.com.
Click below for fun stuff that couldn’t fit into on-air version of the story:
AUGUSTA (WJBF) – I grew up on minor league baseball.
As a kid growing up in Columbus, Georgia baseball was my life (not much has changed other than the location). While my passion was, and still is, the Atlanta Braves, closer to home we had the Class-AA affiliate of the Houston Astros playing at old Golden Park on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.
Yes, Columbus was playing baseball on the river 30-plus years before Project Jackson. Unfortunately whoever designed the whole thing had the ballpark facing the wrong way. So instead of a beautiful view of the water you had a less-than-beautiful view of the Columbus Coliseum and the empty, expansive fairgrounds that only came to life for one week in the fall.
But I didn’t care which way the stadium faced.
The park could have faced directly into an unknown dimension in which Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny and The Tooth Fairy handed out mountains of candy and ice cream and I wouldn’t have known because I never took my eyes off the field. During those days the Astros featured future major leaguer Gerald Young and, more prominently, future National League Most Valuable Player Ken Caminiti. Caminiti was a man among boys. My Dad and I decided he was the best player we’d ever seen in person. Granted, at my age he was one of the ONLY players I’d ever seen play in person. I still have a broken bat he used in a game there sitting in a closet at my parents’ home near Atlanta. The tragic turn his life and career took still saddens me because I think he could have been one of the best ever if he could have stayed clean.
But back to the lecture at hand: Minor league baseball is as much in my blood as baseball itself. So when I came to Augusta shortly after college I was delighted to find out there was a minor league team here. Over the years I’ve encountered others in sports media for whom endless summer nights at Lake Olmstead Stadium became a grind. But I’ve enjoyed most every moment I’ve spent there during my time in Augusta.
I firmly believe every minute spent at a ballpark is better than a minute spent just about anywhere else.
I covered the GreenJackets closely during my years as Sports Director at WJBF. During that time future Major League greats Dustin Pedroia, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Madison Bumgarner came through Lake Olmstead as members of the Boston Red Sox and, later, San Francisco Giants organizations. I enjoyed it very much. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Every now and then someone will ask me why I stopped doing sports and started doing news. The answer is simple: I wanted to be a fan again.
These days I get to sit in the stands at Lake Olmstead Stadium and watch the game the way I did all those many years ago at Golden Park in Columbus. The way it was meant to be watched: with peanuts and cracker jacks, not a camera and microphone.
But ever so often my two career paths intersect. When I was asked to do a “Special Report” this month on any topic that struck my fancy I thought and thought and had a few ideas and then realized the story I really wanted to tell was right under my nose. After this season the GreenJackets will say goodbye to Lake Olmstead Stadium and move across the river to their new ballpark/village in North Augusta. There’s been so much talk about the future part of me felt like we were forgetting the past. So I wanted to sit down with those to whom the old park has meant the most over these last 30 years and hear their stories.
You will hear from my WJBF colleague Scott Skadan, who is basically the “voice” of the GreenJackets. He’s spent most of the last 20 years as the public address announcer at Lake Olmstead Stadium. You’ll hear from two season ticket holders who have been there since the day professional baseball returned to Augusta in 1988. And you’ll hear from a former GreenJacket-turned-major leaguer in whose heart Lake Olmstead Stadium holds a special place that transcends baseball.
There is a lot of excitement about what the future holds for the GreenJackets and baseball in the CSRA when the “Baseball Village” opens next year in North Augusta. But first, let’s give the old ballpark its due. Many of us have shared a lot of great memories there.
Please join me for my Special Report: “Leaving The Lake”, Monday at 6pm on WJBF NewsChannel 6. And once you see the story, click here and let us know your favorite memories of summers at The Lake!