Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tampa Yankees 6-6 at Fort Myers Miracle 7 (8)-5 - June 26, 2012

Tropical Storm Debby disrupted the Florida State League schedule when it moved across the west part of the state over the weekend, causing rainouts at a number of stadiums. The upshot for me was that the Fort Myers game that was scheduled for 7:05 on Tuesday night had been changed to a doubleheader that would start two hours earlier. This meant a quick drive from Port St. Lucie was  after the St. Lucie Mets and Daytona Cubs went 12 long innings in the morning game. Traffic was clear for the most part, and I arrived at Hammond Stadium just in time for first pitch.

Hammond Stadium

Opened in 1991, Hammond Stadium immediately became the spring home of the Minnesota Twins as well as the summer domicile of the Fort Myers Miracle. The ballpark is located in the Lee County Sports Complex, a collection of ball diamonds that lies about 2 miles west of I-75, just south of Daniels Parkway, and is Named for William H. Hammond, Jr., who was pivotal in getting the complex built.

Hammond Stadium's outer facade was created to be similar to Churchill Downs. It is a unique look among the ballparks in this league.

Unlike most FSL teams, the Miracle is not owned by the parent club, so they have to find other methods of generating revenue. Thus parking is not free, rather it is $3, with more than enough for the average minor league crowd. Note that each row of parking honours a Twins' great, such as Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven. After exiting your care, you might want to approach the stadium along Palm Walk, a pathway which is surrounded by tall palm trees and ends in a water fountain next to the box office.

Tickets are $8.50 for the box seats that lie below the inner concourse, while the general admission benches are $6.50. There is also a drink rail down the right field line that costs $8.50 and seemed quite popular, with a berm just below that was a good place for families to relax.

As you enter the stadium, you will notice a wall dedicated to a few scouts who have made their mark, not just with the Twins but across the game as a whole. Another unique touch that goes a long way to making Hammond quite different than the rest of the ballparks in the league.

Concessions were more varied than usual, with the signature item being a Carolina Dog, a hot dog lathered in pulled pork, baked beans, and coleslaw. It was 2-4-1 Tuesday on the day I went though, so I just got a couple of regular hot dogs instead, which were passable.

Above the concourse you can see a number of banners that show current Twins in their Miracle uniforms. Always cool to see these stars before they became famous.

The Twins are also honoured on the press box, with the retired numbers (below) and pennants pasted there.

As is the case in the FSL, there are few distractions, which is how I prefer it. Hammond Stadium is really an old-style park that relies on the hard work of the management to attract fans. In a league that suffers from being second fiddle to spring training, not to mention terrible summer weather, the Miracle stands out in their attempt to make the game an enjoyable attraction. The team has a number of interesting promotions, for example, the day after I visited was to be "AM in the PM", when fans were encouraged to show up in pyjamas or bathrobes and enjoy pancakes and waffles, despite the 7:00 pm start time. For ideas such as this, the Miracle have won the FSL promotions award four years running. No doubt fans are having a lot of fun here and if you are in Fort Myers, you should stop by and have some fun too.

The Games

Game 1 - Fort Myers 7, Tampa 6 (8)

I didn't bother keeping score here as I spent much of the time walking around the stadium taking pictures. The Yankees stormed to a 5-0 lead in their first two at-bats, but the Miracle tied it with a five-spot in the second, helped by 3 Tampa errors. The Yanks quickly regained the lead with a run in the 3rd and held that until Fort Myers tied it in the 6th. Neither team scored in the 7th and we were headed to extra innings for the second time that day (minor league doubleheaders are 7-inning games).

After Tampa failed to score in their half of the 8th, Miracle left fielder Daniel Rams (2nd round in 2007, above) led off with a single and moved to second on a hit batsmen. After a sacrifice bunt and intentional walk, Levi Michael (30th overall in 2011) singled home Rams and the Miracle had the comeback win in the opener.

Game 2 - Tampa 6, Fort Myers 5

Forty minutes later the second game got underway, with the teams wearing different uniforms. The Yankees were sporting a dark blue number that is very rare in the organization, who never wear anything other than road greys in the majors.

Again Tampa broke out early when Tyson Blaser (above) crushed a 1st-inning, bases-loaded triple that just missed being a grand slam. Ramon Flores added a wind-aided homer in the second but Fort Myers got that back in the 3rd on a Michael RBI single. The Yankees quickly responded in the 4th to regain the four-run lead, but again their defense fell apart, allowing the Miracle to tie the game in the 5th, with two Yankee errors contributing to two unearned runs as Fort Myers batted around.

After a scoreless 6th, it looked like I would be seeing my third extra inning game of the day, but in the top of the 7th, Flores hit another dinger that was helped by the wind (that's him above, looking sheepish as he is about to be congratulated). This run held as all-star Mark Montgomery (11th, 2011) struck out Lance Ray (8th, 2010) with the bases loaded to end the game.

A great evening with two excellent battles not decided until the last pitch. I was somewhat disappointed to not see a third game with bonus baseball as that is a rarity few can brag about, but at the same time it was a relief to get to my hotel as I had an early Wednesday drive to Dunedin for another camp day. More on that shortly.


The Miracle include Bill Murray and Jimmy Buffett among their minority owners.

Yankee fans should keep the closer, Mark Montgomery, on their radar. In just two seasons in the minors ( 62 IP) he has struck out 103 while walking 25, with an ERA of 1.73 and a WHIP of 1.06. Early days but those numbers have to be encouraging.



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