Tagged: Mets

Pirates of the Florida State League

On November 10, 2009, the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased the Sarasota Reds franchise in the Florida State League and moved it north to Bradenton.

The Reds were no longer interested in Florida because they’ve moved their spring training/minor league complex to Arizona for 2010. The Lynchburg franchise in the Carolina League, which was the Pirates’ Advanced Class-A affiliate, will now be a Reds’ affiliate.

As more baseball organizations relocate from Florida to Arizona, it’s led some to question the continued viability of the Grapefruit League, the spring training circuit for teams based here in the Sunshine State. The Dodgers and Indians preceded the Reds in recent years, leaving fifteen clubs in Florida. Arizona’s advantage is that its fifteen clubs are all located around Phoenix, while Florida’s clubs are scattered about the state.

One rumor persists that the Chicago Cubs might relocate from Mesa, Arizona to Naples, Florida. This probably has more to do with the Cubs’ lease on Hohokam Stadium, which allows them to opt out in 2010. Major league organizations often seek “opt out” clauses in long-term leases as a means of squeezing their municipal landlords for improvements, financed (of course) by the taxpayers. Hohokam is rather antiquated by modern major league baseball complex standards. It has only two practice fields, limited parking and little room for expansion. The minor league complex is about three blocks south at Fitch Park. These days, clubs prefer an integrated complex to seamlessly move players from one facility to another. Naples, presumably, would be a clean slate.

Most Florida State League clubs operate out of their parent club’s spring training complex. The twelve FSL teams and their parent clubs are (those in the parent club’s park are in bold):

Bradenton Marauders Pittsburgh Pirates
Brevard County Manatees  Milwaukee Brewers
Charlotte Stone Crabs Tampa Bay Rays
Clearwater Threshers Philadelphia Phillies
Daytona Cubs Chicago Cubs
Dunedin Blue Jays Toronto Blue Jays
Ft. Myers Miracle Minnesota Twins
Jupiter Hammerheads Florida Marlins
Lakeland Flying Tigers Detroit Tigers
Palm Beach Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
St. Lucie Mets New York Mets
Tampa Yankees New York Yankees

 

If the Chicago Cubs move to Naples, it creates a scenario where they might want to move their FSL affiliation to Naples too. To do that, they’d have to acquire an FSL franchise. The Pirates bought Sarasota from the Reds and moved it to Bradenton, but none of the other organizations based in their own complex seem inclined any time soon to leave as Cincinnati did.

That would leave the two teams not playing in their parent club’s park — the Daytona Cubs and the Brevard County Manatees.

The straightforward solution is to move the Daytona franchise to Naples, but Daytona is one of the historic franchises in the league. Daytona has been in and out of the FSL since 1920. Since 1993, it’s been a Cubs affiliate. Jackie Robinson Ballpark is historic because of its namesake; according to their web site, “The park was renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1989 as the stadium served as host to the first racially integrated game in baseball history,” although that’s not quite true as their were many semi-pro, independent and barnstorming games in the early 20th Century that were more or less integrated. Daytona Beach was the first Florida town to permit Robinson to play with his white Dodgers teammates, during 1946 spring training.

In any case, should the Daytona franchise’s owner choose not to sell, that leaves only the Manatees. The Brevard franchise could relocate to Naples, then switch affiliations to the Cubs. An affiliation switch couldn’t happen, though, until the Manatees’ Player Development Contract (PDC) with Milwaukee expires after the 2010 season.

Daytona drew an average 2,425 fans per game in 2009, while Brevard drew only 1,183. That’s a slight improvement from 1,035 in 2008, but it’s still down significantly from 2,151, the last year the Marlins were in town before swapping with Montreal in Jupiter. The best average attendance since then was 1,822 in 2004, the year before the Expos left and the Brewers replaced them.

The Manatees sublease Space Coast Stadium from the Washington Nationals, formerly the Expos. They changed their Advanced Class-A affiliation to Potomac in the Carolina League in 2005 when the Expos moved to D.C., so there’s no chance the Nats would put an FSL team in Brevard if the Manatees leave.

Just speculating, but another scenario might be the transfer of two franchises to the FSL from the California League. Minor League Baseball considered transferring two Cal League franchises, Bakersfield and High Desert, to the Carolina League after the 2008 season. That idea fell through, apparently because new ballparks weren’t available.

If Daytona or Brevard moved to Naples, that franchise could be replaced by one from the Cal League, although to keep schedules balanced in both leagues two franchises would have to move to Florida. East Coast teams such as the Rays and Red Sox had to play in the Cal League in recent years because no Florida or Carolina option was available.

Should the Cubs move to Naples, it could trigger a cascade of events in the Florida State League perhaps unanticipated so far by the public. But it would reverse the slow migration west of major league clubs heading for Arizona.


UPDATE January 10, 2010Click here to read an article on MLB.com about the history and movement between the Grapefruit League and Cactus League.

The article describes the Reds’ new start-of-the-art complex in Goodyear:

The Reds’ $23 million complex features six full practice fields plus two half-fields for infield work, and space for agility drills. There are multiple bullpens and covered batting cages. The facility also features a 43,000 square foot, two-story building for offices, clubhouses and rehabilitation.

Contrast that with what I wrote above about the Cubs’ limited facility in Mesa, and you can understand why they’re looking around.

Finding the Space Coast’s Baseball History


Rusty Staub scores ahead of Jim Wynn, who just homered for the Houston Colt .45s, April 4, 1964.

 

I visited the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa earlier this week in search of our baseball history.

The library has on microfilm editions of Florida Today from its inception in 1966, along with the Cocoa Tribune and other local papers.

If you want to print a copy of a microfilmed page, the old-fashioned way is to send it to a printer. That option is still available (for 10ยข a page), but new technology allows you to save an image digitally. That image can be enhanced using an application such as Adobe Photoshop, although there’s only so much you can do. Microfilms are usually fairly poor copies of original pages.

If your objective is to reproduce a photo from a microfilmed page, the much preferable option is to obtain the original print or its negative, but good luck with that.

The original photo is most likely the copyrighted property of the newspaper. Some papers are good about preserving their photo archives, others don’t. If the paper has gone out of existence, or merged into another publication, the archives are probably lost to history. If it still exists, you will be charged a significant amount for a print, and lots more if you intend to use it in a publication or for some commercial purpose.

The original negatives might be with the photographer, but if the image you seek is 40-50 years old that person is most likely no longer an employee, and may not be alive.

I reviewed two periods in 1964 to see how closely the Cocoa Tribune covered baseball back then.

Why 1964?

That was probably the most important baseball year in Space Coast history.

The Houston Astros, then called the Colt .45s, moved their spring training camp from Apache Junction, Arizona to Cocoa. The city built a new baseball complex for the team. We know it today as Cocoa Expo, but its given name was Cocoa Colt Stadium.

The Cocoa Tribune archives for April 1964 show the camp was covered daily by the paper. The Colts were treated like a hometown team, with extensive reports on every game, both home and away.

The image at the top of this article was scanned from a printout of an April 5, 1964 article about a spring training game at Cocoa Colt Stadium. Houston outfielder Jimmy Wynn just hit a three-run homer. That’s Rusty Staub ahead of him about to score.

As you can see, the image is — well, crummy.

I hope to use the digital microfilm reader on my next trip to the library, to see if I can get better results by capturing the page to a JPEG file. (Someone else was using it when I was there.)

The photo credit on all images was, “Tribune Sportsphoto,” so there was no clue who was the original photographer. The articles had no byline for their authors.

If you’re familiar with Cocoa Expo today, the images show it hasn’t changed much since 1964.


The Colts greet Cocoa Little Leaguers, April 5, 1964.

 

This image was in the April 6, 1964 paper. Cocoa Little Leaguers took the field to meet the Colt .45 players. You can clearly see the stands in the background, looking virtually the same as today.

The other period I searched was July 1964. Statistical references from the period included a Cocoa Rookie League, a minor league circuit that existed only that one year. It was Rookie-A, the equivalent of today’s Gulf Coast League Nationals in Viera.

What made this league unique is that all four teams played out of Cocoa Colt. In addition to the Colts, the Mets, Tigers and Twins also fielded teams. It appears that doubleheaders were played every day, weather permitting, with two of the teams playing in the first game and the other two teams in the second. Minor league doubleheader games are seven innings each, although it appears that Sunday games may have been nine innings. Game #1 started at 5:00 PM, Game #2 scheduled for 7:30 PM.

The Tribune did provide some basic coverage of the league. I found stories every day about the two games played, along with a basic line score. No attendance was reported, if anyone actually did attend. A few photos appeared with articles published in the league’s early days, but photographic interest seems to have waned after that.


Mets southpaw Tug McGraw threw a no-hitter at Cocoa Colt on July 3, 1964.

 

Three days into the season, Mets’ left-hander Tug McGraw threw a seven-inning no-hitter against the Colts rookies, which appears to have been his first professional start. The next day, Twins pitchers Jerry Lysico and Gene Melton combined to no-hit the Tigers.

McGraw went on to fame as the ace closer for first the Mets and then the Phillies. He passed away in 2004 from a brain tumor. His son is the famous Country-Western singer Tim McGraw.

Pro ball was in Cocoa long before the Colts arrived.

According to Professional Baseball Franchises From the Abbeville Athletics to the Zanesville Indians, a team called the Cocoa Indians played in the Florida State League from 1951 through 1958. Before that, the Cocoa Fliers played in the Florida East Coast League from 1941 until the league disbanded during the opening days of World War II, as did many minor leagues.

I’ve no idea where they played, since Cocoa Expo wasn’t built until 1964.

Hopefully the Tribune microfilms will help us to resurrect that early Space Coast baseball history.

Playing for Peanuts

While searching for recent articles about the collapse of the Florida Winter Baseball League, I came across an eerily similar tale of another independent circuit that quickly folded.

The South Coast League operated for one year in 2007. It had two teams in Florida, two teams in Georgia, and two teams in South Carolina.

Like the FWBL, the SCL had delusions of grandeur. Like the FWBL, it retained the Global Scouting Bureau to handle player acquisition. Like the FWBL, it was poorly managed. Like the FWBL, it quickly failed to pay its debts. Like the FWBL, its primary investor promised to recapitalize and return for a second year.

Unlike the FWBL, it managed to play one full season before it folded.

Witness to it all was documentarian John Fitzgerald. He signed an agreement with the SCL to produce an independent series called Playing for Peanuts. As with all documentarians, there was no way he’d know he’d be recording history.

I just finished watching Fitzgerald’s ten-episode series on DVD. You can order it through www.playingforpeanuts.com. The series is $25 plus $5 shipping. Each episode was intended to run a half-hour on commercial television, which means that without commercials each episode is 22 minutes. You can finish the series in four hours.

Playing for Peanuts was dramatic, it was funny, it was everything you’d want in a baseball documentary. I couldn’t wait to watch the next episode.

The center of the story is Wally Backman. You might remember he was hired to manage the Diamondbacks and fired four days later due to a domestic problem that hit the papers. Backman was desperate to get back into the game, so he agreed to manage the South Georgia Peanuts.

Wally was wired with a mic for the entire season. He was combustible, he was controversial, he got suspended, he got fired, he got rehired. But he passionately loved the game and defended his players.

The backdrop for all this was the absolutely horrid conditions in this indy league. It had six teams, and one of the six lost its stadium lease after a week so it had to play on the road for the rest of the year. There was a drug controversy — again, involving the Peanuts — and as the financial losses mounted the players wound up having to be their own grounds crew.

Despite all this, the Peanuts somehow won the pennant.

The documentary left me wondering how the FWBL’s investors could have possibly believed they could succeed where the SCL failed, especially since the SCL’s failure was so recent and the Global Scouting Bureau was involved with both. I don’t fault the GSB — to my knowledge, they were not responsible for league finances — but I have to wonder if GSB warned FWBL investors what happened with the SCL, and if their warnings were heard.

Playing for Peanuts is a great stocking stuffer for a baseball fan. I strongly recommend you order it now in time for the holidays.