When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the eighth installment in a 14-part series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique,
When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the eighth installment in a 14-part series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique, weird, poignant or otherwise memorable fact about each team or city in each of Minor League Baseball's admission-charging leagues. Remember -- it's about the journey, not the destination. To share your own favorite team or city facts, please reach out via email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@bensbiz). Previous installments:International League, Pacific Coast League, Eastern League, Southern League, Texas League, California League, Carolina League.
The Florida State League, like the California League -- its Class A Advanced counterpart, exclusively features teams operating out of the state for which it is named. And how's this for consistency? The first iteration of the Florida State League debuted in 1919, and from then until now, it has never fielded a team outside of the Sunshine State. Let's offer the FSL a tip of the cap for its continued commitment to an unimpeachably accurate name. And now, let's get to the facts.
LECOM Park (formerly McKechnie Field) is the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Marauders' parent club. In late February 2012, the Pirates kicked off their Spring Training season in memorable fashion, but it had nothing to do with the action on the field. In the late innings of the game, a woman went into labor and gave birth at the ballpark. Trevor Gooby, then the Pirates' director of Florida operations, was on hand to assist with delivery. The Marauders paid tribute to this miraculous moment later in the 2012 season, via a "bobble baby" featuring Gooby holding the newly arrived child. The baby later was named McKechnie, in honor of the place in which he came into the world.
Charlotte Stone Crabs The Stone Crabs, a Tampa Bay affiliate, played their first season in Port Charlotte in 2009. Prior to that, the franchise existed as the Vero Beach Devil Rays. The 2008 Vero Beach squad holds a special distinction, it was the last professional team to utilize the "Devil Rays" moniker. (The final season in which parent Tampa Bay played as the Devil Rays was 2007.) The 2008 Vero Beach squad featured rehab appearances by a variety of Tampa Bay players -- Rocco Baldelli, Dioner Navarro, Carlos Peña, Ben Zobrist and Scott Kazmir among them -- who found themselves playing for the Devil Rays one last time.
Clearwater Threshers If you are, or ever were, a fan of NSYNC, then you may recall a well-known photo of the band in which they are all sporting Philadelphia Phillies jerseys. This picture was taken in 1996, when Justin, Lance, Joey, Chris and JC, not yet famous, performed at the Threshers' former home of Jack Russell Stadium. (At that point in time, the team was known as the Phillies.) This performance was likely facilitated by a family connection. John Timberlake, then Clearwater's general manager and currently the Phillies' director of Florida operations, is Justin's uncle.
Daytona Tortugas MiLB.com's Michael Avallone recently penned an entertaining article on bizarre and memorable Minor League ejections. Among the stories he told was that of Derek Dye, who served as an intern for the Daytona Cubs in 2012. (The team changed its name to the Tortugas prior to the 2015 season.) Dye, an Illinois native, was handling music and sound effects during the Aug. 1 ballgame against Fort Myers. When Daytona manager Brian Harper came out to argue a questionable call, Dye added to the atmosphere by playing a recording of "Three Blind Mice." Wrong move. The umpire promptly pointed up to the press box and ejected Dye from the game. This incident went viral, and Dye woke up the next morning to approximately 75 media requests.
Dunedin Blue Jays Dave Stieb, arguably the best pitcher in Toronto Blue Jays history, had a long history in Dunedin. Like, two decades long. The right-hander made his professional debut with the Dunedin Blue Jays in 1978 and returned to the team to start the 1979 campaign, the season in which he made his Major League debut. Stieb toed the rubber once again for Dunedin in 1992 as he rehabbed from a back injury. He retired in 1993, but in 1998, he returned to Dunedin once again to serve as a guest Spring Training instructor. This inspired Stieb to stage an ultimately successful Major League comeback, which began with three April starts as a member of -- you guessed it -- the Dunedin Blue Jays.
Florida Fire Frogs Thirsty Thursday, featuring discounted beer, is a Minor League Baseball promotional staple. In 2018, the Fire Frogs took the concept a step further by staging Free Beer Thursday. The concept was simple: Fans would receive free beer, in the form of a 10-ounce cup of Pabst Blue Ribbon, until a Fire Frogs pitcher gave up a run. Free Beer Thursday -- which later morphed into the more alliterative Free Beer Friday -- debuted on April 19, 2018, and it turned out to be a memorable (or perhaps inadvertently forgotten) occasion. Fire Frogs starter Joey Wentz hurled five shutout innings, and the beer was free until reliever Justin Kelly relinquished a run in the sixth.
Fort Myers Mighty Mussels Fort Myers rebranded as the Mighty Mussels this past offseason after 28 seasons as the Miracle. The franchise has a long history with "mighty muscles," however, as in 2008, a local strongman named David "Mighty" Gonzalez established a world record by doing 983 keg lifts over the course of a Thirsty Thursday ballgame at Hammond Stadium. Each keg lift was 145 pounds, meaning Gonzalez hoisted approximately 142,000 pounds over the course of this physically arduous evening.
Jupiter Hammerheads The Hammerheads played their longest game in franchise history on May 11, 2011, defeating visiting Clearwater, 2-1, in 23 innings. This baseball diamond endurance test, which took a not-unreasonable-under-the-circumstances five hours and 23 minutes to complete, was still a long way from being the longest game in Florida State League history. On June 14, 1966, the Miami Marlins beat the St. Petersburg Cardinals, 4-3, in a 29-inning marathon. This stood as the longest game in professional baseball history until 1981, when the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings played a 33-inning game.
Lakeland Flying Tigers The Lakeland Flying Tigers have been a Detroit affiliate since 1967, tied with the Reading Fightin Phils for the longest such relationship in all of Minor League Baseball. But the city's Minor League history dates back far longer than that, as Lakeland was a charter member of the Florida State League. The Lakeland Highlanders operated from 1919-26, spending a portion of that time at a ballpark now known as Henley Stadium. That venerable facility, first utilized in 1924, went on to host Lakeland's FSL squad in 2002 and 2016. On both occasions this was because the team's home of Joker Marchant Stadium, venerable in its own right, was undergoing extensive renovations.
Palm Beach Cardinals Casey Mulligan played six seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, two as a position player and four as a pitcher. He was a reliever for the Palm Beach Cardinals in 2009, compiling a 1.61 ERA over 26 appearances. But for as well as Mulligan pitched, he was a better dancer. During a rain delay at the Cardinals' home of Roger Dean Stadium, Mulligan came out of the dugout and entertained the hardy fans who remained with a surprisingly well-choreographed rendition of "Thriller." A YouTube video of Mulligan's antics has over 100,000 views.
St. Lucie Mets "Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, banana phone!" In 2010, for some reason (or perhaps no reason at all), the St. Lucie Mets started playing this Raffi earworm whenever the opposing team made a call to the bullpen. The tradition continues to this day. Over the years, the Mets have given away a variety of "Banana Phone" promotional items, from figurines to picture magnets to t-shirts. Despite this decade of uninterrupted "Banana Phone" mania, Raffi has yet to make a promotional appearance at a St. Lucie Mets game.
Tampa Tarpons Prior to the 2018 season, Tampa's FSL team changed its name from the Yankees to the Tarpons. This moniker hearkened back to a previous era of the city's league history, as a previous iteration of the Tampa Tarpons existed from 1957 through 1988. This team was a Cincinnati Reds affiliate for most of its existence, and notable alumni included the likes of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Randy Poffo. This latter individual, a member of the 1974 Tarpons, became far better known as professional wrestler "Macho Man" Randy Savage.