Southwest Florida is a Heavy Hitter in Baseball History
For some, it runs through our blood. The green of the grass, the crack of a bat, the smell of a leather glove, all experiences familiar to the senses of a baseball fan. Despite the changing times, the breakneck speed of life, and awesome technological advances, it’s something that remains largely unchanged. Baseball is part of the fabric of America, still, and whether you are a die-hard fan, or the casual observer who enjoys a beer and brat, it remains.
As a child, my father and grandfather took me on my first trip to New York City. The short visit included sightseeing, a stroll through China Town and dinner in Little Italy, but there’s one breathtaking moment I can still see in my mind’s eye. The moment I exited the concourse at Yankee Stadium I had my first view of the brilliant green grass against the majestic backdrop of the historic ballpark, a moment I’ll never forget.
I was fortunate to play through my college years. And it was college baseball that first brought me to Southwest Florida, when I played in the Gene Cusic Classic at Fort Myers’ historic Terry Park. While there for one week I enjoyed the weather, the competition, and even heard the whispers of the ghosts of baseball’s past.
Southwest Florida and Baseball Go Way Back
Pasture land donated to Lee County by the Terry Family in the 1920s would be home to Terry Park. Not long after, professional Major League baseball teams starting with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1925, used Terry Park as their spring training venue. Following the Athletics’ stay, which lasted until 1936, the Cleveland Indians utilized the facility in 1941-1942. After fire destroyed the park in 1943 it was rebuilt in 1955, and the Pittsburgh Pirates (1955-1968) and Kansas City Royals (1969-1987) called Terry Park their spring training home. Terry Park has also been home to Minor League baseball teams including the original Fort Myers Miracle-franchise, the Fort Myers Palms for one year in 1926, the Fort Myers Royals from 1978 to 1987, and the Fort Myers Sun Sox in 1989-1990. Even the Florida Gulf Coast University baseball team called Terry Park home in 2003 while their new on-campus park was under construction.
Some of baseball’s greatest players and Hall of Famers started their careers and honed their skills at Terry Park. A short list of the legends that trained at Terry Park includes Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Lefty Grove, Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Fox, Tris Speaker, Bob Feller, and George Brett. Many other greats played spring training games at Terry Park, including Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
However, perhaps the most famous individual ever to take a few cuts at Terry Park wasn’t a ball player at all, but rather Fort Myers’ adopted son and legendary inventor, Thomas Edison. Edison, known to be an avid baseball fan, built a friendship with A’s manager Connie Mack. Edison would often host Mack and A’s players at his winter estate, while Mack would invite Edison to take some batting practice at Terry Park, which he did, on a more than one occasion in the mid-1920s.
Although Terry Park no longer hosts professional baseball, hundreds of college baseball teams come to Terry Park for early season games and tournaments, like the Gene Cusic Classic. Amateur baseball is played at the facility’s various fields on a year-round basis. After its latest renovation in 2010, this historic park continues the tradition of baseball started nearly 100 years ago.
Terry Park is on the United States Department of the Interior’s National Historic Register of Historic Places.
Twins and Red Sox Step Up to the Plate
Following the 1990 season at Terry Park, Southwest Floridians didn’t wait long for more professional baseball. The Minnesota Twins moved to Hammond Stadium (now known as Hammond Stadium in the CenturyLink Sports Complex) in Lee County 1991. Similarly, in 1992, The Boston Red Sox moved their spring training operations to City of Palms Park in downtown Fort Myers. Just like that, big-time baseball had returned in a big way to Southwest Florida.
Today, the Twins continue spring training at Hammond Stadium, recently renovated in 2014 and 2015. While City of Palms Park remains, the Red Sox moved from the park to newly constructed JetBlue Park in Lee County in 2012.
While there are many reasons for visitors to come to Southwest Florida, not the least of which is the agreeable winter-time climate, it’s difficult to argue that Twins and Red Sox fans don’t have a significant impact on the local economy. You simply need to visit the beaches or local restaurants in February or March to see evidence of their fans frequenting the hot spots that we locals know and love. It is estimated that these Spring Training attractions contribute an estimated $50 million annually to Lee County’s economy.
Root, Root, Root for the Miracle!
When the calendar turns from March to April, Cape Coral and Fort Myers becomes a little roomier. As the Red Sox, Twins, tourists, and snow birds head north, the Fort Myers Miracle, the Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, begin the season at Hammond Stadium. The Miracle franchise, born in 1926 at Terry Park, has been affiliated with several teams and locations over the past 90-plus years, but they returned to Southwest Florida in 1992.
For those who love baseball, those with kids, or those who are looking for time to let go of stress while taking in a game, it’s difficult to beat the value of a Minor League Baseball. And, the Miracle have it figured out. Hammond Stadium’s recent renovations, coupled with the value offered by attending the games, make Miracle games the place to be for summer fun.
All Miracle home games are coupled with various promotions, including multiple post-game fireworks displays throughout the season.
Cape Coral on Deck?
While Cape Coral has dozens of venues for amateur baseball and softball, Southwest Florida’s largest and fasting growing City does not yet host a professional baseball franchise. But, as Cape Coral’s popularity and population continue to rise, peanuts and Cracker Jacks may not be too far off.