Flexing Their Mussels
The Fort Myers Miracle, after a 28-year run, came to an end on Tuesday morning, December 3, with the official time of death at 11:35 a.m.!
No, the Fort Myers franchise, the Single A team affiliate of the Minnesota Twins in the Florida State League (FSL), did not fall victim to the major league owners’ ill-conceived plan to eliminate 42 low-level minors baseball teams. The death of the Miracle gave birth to the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, the new team name for the club that returned minor league action to the community in 1992.
Show Your Mussels!
Minnesota Twins broadcasting legend John “Gordo” Gorman served as Master of Ceremonies for the name changing event attended by roughly 200 local leaders and baseball fans. Gorman was the Twins radio announcer from the 1987 through 2011 seasons, before his election to the Twins Hall-of-Fame in 2016. “Welcome,” he announced, before gesturing at the cloudless blue sky above, intoning that “this is a great day for baseball! The Twins have called Hammond Stadium here at CenturyLink Sports Complex their home field since 1992, with so many Twins like Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer calling this their home field during their minor league careers, as they all came through Fort Myers on their way to ‘The Big Show!’ This field and this community helped to shape some of the biggest names in Twins history and today we are announcing the beginning of a new era!”
Public address announcer and Fort Myers baseball broadcaster Marshall Kelner than called out from the press box “today’s starting lineup” of local officials and dignitaries, including Lee County Commissioner Chair Brian Hamman and District 2 Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, along with Florida Gulf Coast University Athletic Director Ken Kavanagh, former North Fort Myers High School and National Football League Fullback Tommy Bohanon, former Fort Myers Miracle Manager Toby Gardenhire and former Minnesota Twins two-time Cy Young Award-winning starting pitcher and four-time All Star Johan Santana, among many others, with Andrew Kaufmann, CEO and Owner of Zawyer Sports, who became the principal owner of the Fort Myers franchise prior to the 2019 season.
Gordan then announced the new team nickname: “The Fort Myers Mighty Mussels!” He introduced outfielder Trey Cabbage from the 2019 squad who wore the new home uniform, former outfielder Alex Kirilloff, the star of the 2018 Fort Myers Miracle FSL Championship Season who was modeling the road uni, and 2019 starting pitcher Jordan Balazovic in the alternate home outfit, along with the new team mascot, “Mussel Man,” as well as the new logo that portrays “Mussel Man” in calling his homerun shot! Gorman reminded the crowd that “Spring Training is right around the corner, so come on out and cheer on the Defending American League Central Division Champ Twins, and remember Opening Day for the Mighty Mussels is Thursday evening, April 9.”
Our Local Community Team
Following the name change announcement and ceremony, Kaufmann stated, “We are so excited by the Mighty Mussels, as you can see, because we are all smiles today, and want to see everyone smile like this when we open the season on April 9! We made the decision to change our name because the ‘Miracle’ came with the team when it relocated from Miami in 1992 and we wanted something that more directly identified with our area. We studied the beach and found out that there are over 60 different variety of mussels in our waters, and when the sun hits them, they reflect purple, blue, and yellow, so those became our team colors. The ‘Miracle’ will always be an important part of our team history but we want our local community to think of us as their team.”
Fort Myers played a single season in 1926, as the “Palms,” in tribute to the city’s nickname of “The City of Palms” from the stately Royal Palms made famous by Thomas Edison. The team relocated the next year to Miami, competing for the next two seasons as the “Hustlers” before it went inactive for 32 years, from 1929 through 1961. Miami resurrected it in 1962, first as the Marlins, then the Orioles, before becoming the Marlins again, and finally the Miracle from 1989 to 1991, due to Miami’s famed “Miracle Mile” shopping and business district. When the club returned to Fort Myers as a Twins affiliate in 1992, the Miracle moniker traveled with them for the next 28 years, winning FSL Championships in 2014 and 2018.
Kaufmann pointed out that in addition to the new name, fans will note other changes for the upcoming 2020 season. “Stay tuned, because we will be making many more exciting announcements in the near future, but one that I can tease you with is that we will be offering fireworks after every Friday and Saturday night home game, rather than just on Fridays as in the past. We will have a special promotion for every home game, to induce everyone to come to as many games as possible, beginning with April 9.”
When describing the best part of owning the Fort Myers franchise, the affable Kaufmann let out a huge laugh! “I do this because baseball is my passion. Owning a team was the best way to get my wife to understand why I have to come to so many baseball games, because now I can say with a straight face, “Sorry, honey, but I have to go to work!”
Honoring Ryan Costello
The joyous occasion began on a most somber note: Kelner from the press box announced that “on November 18, an unexpected tragedy struck the Twins and Fort Myers family, as Ryan Costello passed away at age 23. He was not just a great player who will be remembered for hitting the biggest home run in Fort Myers baseball history to win the 2018 Florida State League Championship, but more importantly, he was that great a person!” In the best-of-five games FSL Championship series in September 2018, the Miracle led the Daytona Tortugas two games to one, but trailed in the 3rd inning of Game Four 3 to 0. Fort Myers scored two runs to trim the lead, then with two out, Costello launched a huge three-run home run to right field, giving the Miracle a 5 – 3 lead they would never relinquish on the way to an 8 – 5 win to seal the Championship.
Costello returned in 2019 to help the Miracle win the 1st Half Championship as well, before the Twins promoted him to Double A Pensacola early in the 2nd Half. He went to Auckland, New Zealand, to play winter ball with the Auckland Tuatara in the Australian Baseball League. The team found him already deceased in his hotel room when he failed to show up for a practice, with death from natural causes the determination. The Seattle Mariners selected Costello in the 31st round of the Major League Baseball Draft in 2017 after playing at Central Connecticut State University, with the Twins acquiring him in a July 2018 trade. “Ryan was an outstanding young man,” recalled Gardenhire. “His passing is a shock and something we are all still dealing with.”