Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tampa Yankees 1 at Florida Fire Frogs 0 (FSL) - May 15, 2017

The biggest problem with trying to see all active minor league parks is that the goalposts are always moving. The number remains at 160, but every year there are several relocations, and this season is no different with four franchises playing out of new cities. One of those is the Florida Fire Frogs, who were the Brevard County Manatees until this year. They moved just down the road to Kissimmee, part of the Greater Orlando Area and took up residence in Osceola County Stadium, former spring training home of the Houston Astros.

The Fire Frogs are just one of the weird nicknames that have taken over minor league baseball lately (the New Orleans Baby Cakes, El Paso Chihuahuas, Down East Wood Ducks are three other examples). But the logo is pretty cool as is the mascot, Striker (below). Actually, in the Florida heat, the poor guy inside the suit is probably anything but cool.

The stadium is the main attraction in a large baseball complex, with several other ballparks around. An umpire school and a softball association are two other organizations that use the facilities. It took me 20 minutes to get here from the airport, and I arrived about 45 minutes before first pitch.

The outside of the park is sand coloured, with arches for gates.

The box office is hard to miss, get the cheapest available because there are few ushers and nobody really checks.

With a capacity of 5,300 and an attendance of 373 on this night, you had your pick of sections. The sun is behind third base, and there is a roof that covers the top 7 rows or so, thus making that the best place to sit early on.

There is a standing area along the upper concourse with a table for your scorebook, but it is not protected from the sun. Again, with so few Fire Frog fans here, there was no need to avoid the crowd.

The obligatory shot from behind home plate...

... and along third base...

...and first base.

The picture below was put together automatically by Google's photo software. That's pretty cool.

The concourse is obviously more than enough for the crowd. Even a couple of Fire Frogs were seen wandering about before the game.

Food is pretty typical, with the Polliwog Pad one of two open concession stands. On this night there were $2 empanadas and $3 margaritas (neither listed on the menu), both of which were very good. It goes without saying that there was no waiting.

Inside the team shop is a "Road to the Show" plaque that lists players who played here for the Astros' many years ago. The Fire Frogs are the Braves affiliate, so they'll have to start their own display in a couple of years.

Of course, the starting line-up and standings are displayed nearby, but that is about it.

The Fire Frogs have done a good job branding themselves, but fans haven't taken to the team yet, with average attendance just about 1,000 per game. That's too bad, because the stadium is nice and spacious, and the effort put forth by the gameday staff is impressive and deserves more recognition. Of course, most people traveling to Orlando are on their way to Disney World or Universal Studios, but if you are one of the rare few who prefers minor league baseball to theme parks, you will enjoy a visit to Osceola County Stadium.

The Game

The Tampa Yankees were in town and sent Erik Swanson (8th round, 2014, by Texas, above) to the hill while Florida countered with Tyler Pike (3rd, 2012, Seattle, below). Both pitchers had started the season very well and both built on that success. Pike lasted six frames, yielding no runs despite 3 hits and 4 walks, while Swanson was even better, allowing 4 hits and no free passes in his seven innings, striking out only one.

The game was moving at a very fast pace, and we were still scoreless in the top of the 9th as the two-hour mark passed. Chase Johnson-Mullins (13th, 2015) was on the hill for Florida and was let down by his defense when first baseman Tyler Neslony (9th, 2016) missed a catch that allowed the leadoff runner to reach. A couple of walks loaded the bases and with one out, Jhalan Jackson (7th, 2015) pinch-hit for Tampa. He hit a high grounder that allowed the first run of the game to score. Jorge Mateo, (Yankees #4 prospect, below) could not add to the lead and we went to the bottom of the ninth with the Fire Frogs down a run.

Matt Marsh had relieved Swanson in the 8th and remained in the game, giving up a 2-out walk but nothing else as he earned the win in Tampa's 1-0 shutout of the Fire Frogs, while Johnson-Mullins took the loss, giving up an unearned run in his only inning.

The game took all of 2:15, a great start to the trip for me. The PPM (pitches per minute) was an incredible 1.87, possibly the fasted paced game I've seen in years. With no video reviews, pitching changes during innings, or players wasting time, the game moves as it should: quickly.


Early on in the game, SpaceX launched a rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral. The vapor trail was visible for several minutes above the batter's eye.

I have 25 minor league parks left to see this year. Two more in the Midwest League next week, two new franchises in the Carolina League in early June, the entire eight-team Pioneer League in late June, six teams in the Northwest League in July, and the final six teams in the Midwest League in August, and the Hartford Yard Goats sometime during the season. It will be a busy summer, so keep checking back for updates.



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