Columbia Fireflies open 2021 season Tuesday night

The Fireflies will play at Augusta tonight at 7:05 p.m. at SRP Park. RHP Adrian Alcantara (0-0, 0.00 ERA) gets the nod for the Fireflies, while the GreenJackets opt to toss RHP Alec Barger (0-0, 0.00 ERA).

PANDEMIC CREATES HISTORIC STOPPAGE: For the first time since Minor League Baseball was founded in 1901, there was no Minor League Baseball in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today will mark the first Columbia Fireflies game since they played Augusta Monday, September 2, 2019, which was 607 days ago. When the Fireflies return home May 11 to play the Charleston RiverDogs, it will be their first home game in 611 days, or since they capped off the season with a Fireworks Night after playing the Hickory Crawdads August 29, 2019.

FORMER BRAVE TO LEAD FIREFLIES IN 2021: Brooks Conrad had a lengthy playing career after being drafted in the eighth round of the 2001 draft by the Houston Astros. He spent seven seasons in Minor League Baseball prior to playing parts of six seasons in the majors with Oakland, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Tampa Bay and San Diego. After retiring as a player, the Southern California-native began coaching in Burlington (NC) in 2017 as the first base coach. The following year, the Arizona State University graduate became Burlington’s manager before heading to Lexington to man the helm in 2019. The 2021 season will mark his fourth as a member of the Royals Minor League staff.

DYNAMIC TRIO TO LEAD 2021 SQUAD: The Columbia Fireflies have three top-30 prospects from the Royals’ farm according to The are RHP Ben Hernandez, SS Brady McConnell and OF Darryl Collins. Hernandez was picked in the second round of the 2020 draft out of De La Salle Institute. The 18-year-old managed to wring up 67 batters in just 45 innings while maintaining a 1.80 ERA in his final year at De La Salle. He brings a mid-90’s fastball to the table and pairs it with one of the top change-ups in the 2020 draft class. Those familiar with SEC baseball will remember McConnell. The former Florida Gator terrorized SEC pitching in 2019, hitting .332 and knocking 15 homers, the most for any shortstop in program history. He also drove in 48 RBI. Collins was named after famed Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry, and his game certainly mirrors the way he plays. As a 15-year-old in his hometown Spijkenisse, Netherlands, Collins had a .418/.510/.532 slash in the country’s top professional league. After being signed by Kansas City, he went state-side in 2017 and reached base safely in his first 24 games, rocking a very similar slash in the Arizona Rookie League, .398/.472/.548.   

LOADED LEFTIES ANCHOR PITCHING STAFF: Of the 16 pitchers on the Fireflies Opening Day roster, seven are left-handed. Southpaws A.J. BlockLuis De AvilaRylan KaufmanEmilio MarquezWalter PenningtonPatrick Smith and Marlin Willis will be a match-up problem for lefties in the Low-A East lineups trying to establish themselves early on.

NEW YEAR, NEW ME: A lot has changed since the Fireflies last took the field. The Fireflies are now in the Low-A East League rather than the South Atlantic League, which the club belonged to since moving to Columbia in 2016. The Sand Gnats were a member of the SAL since their inaugural season in 1984. That wasn’t the only change that the Fireflies went through in the offseason, the club also changed affiliation. After being affiliated with the Mets since 2016,  the team will now be a Kansas City Royals affiliate. The Fireflies announced their 10-year Player Development License that runs through 2030 February 12. The last time a Columbia Minor League team was affiliated with a Major League team from Kansas City was in 1957 when the Gems were affiliated with the Kansas City Athletics.

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