There is perhaps nothing as inherently Small Town America as minor league baseball, where players still play for the love of the sport and not the size of their paycheck. In our backyard, that means attending a game or 20 of the Fort Myers Miracle, the Single A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, who call Hammond Stadium at Century Link Sports Complex home!
While Southwest Florida Summer evenings remain hot and sultry, with game-time temperatures still well into the upper 80s, it always seems to be 10 degrees cooler at Hammond, as the ballpark stands at least 20 feet above ground level, providing a near-constant breeze that acts like nature’s air conditioning – the same exact reason why the Calusa Indians constructed their villages on the 13-foot high mound like at the Mound House on Fort Myers Beach.
Everything the Miracle does revolves around the quality fan experience. When their starting lineup takes their defensive positions prior to the game, a little league team gets the thrill to run out onto the field with them, where they remain through the National Anthem. A local person or group does the Anthem, with former local weatherman and regional musical talent Jim Syoen frequently and uniquely performing it on his tuba.
Between almost every half-inning is a contest that involves families, usually children. “Are You Smarter Than a Miracle” trivia contest, battling eyeball challenge, taco dash, shoe scramble, critter catch, dizzy bat wagon race, hidden baseball on the jumbo scoreboard, and Toss-a-Ball are all fan-favorites, with anniversary, birthday and veterans’ recognition occurring during the game.
Field of Dreams
A big crowd is generally about 2,000 people, meaning there are always great seats in the 9,100-capacity stadium, ranging from suites to the stands, with a beer garden, two grassy hills and outfield tables, all complete with beverage holders. Built in 1991 and significantly renovated in 2015, fans in 2016 ranked Hammond Stadium the 2nd nicest of the 29 Single A ballparks. Because of its high elevation and open design, you don’t need to be at the beach to enjoy a magnificent sunset over the left field wall!
Miracle baseball is great for seniors, families, children and teens, with the youngest fans populating the two grass hills along the first base line and left field corner, where Mom and Dad can let them run wild in a contained and controlled area. Perhaps the best example of the fun at a Miracle game occurred not long ago, when a teenage girl wanted to be anywhere but with her family at Hammond on a recent Friday fireworks night. As the evening went along, however, her cell suddenly went away, the smile returned to her face, and when she finally admitted she “was not not having a good time,” she thrilled her parents!
The Miracle celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2017, and of the hundreds of players to suit up for them over the past quarter-century, they will in the near future almost assuredly have their first two former players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, in recently-retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and current Twin Joe Mauer.
The Game’s The Thing!
The 2017 Miracle are not the most talented, but they play smart, with excellent pitching, fine defense, and aggressive baserunning, though that is often not enough to overcome their mediocre hitting and almost total lack of power. They played a recent contest in a spiffy 2-1/2 hours, a typical game length, as they tend to neither give up nor score a lot of runs. The Miracle finished their 1st half season at 33 wins and 35 losses; fortunately, Single A divides its season into two, giving them another chance to yet make the playoffs.
Like most minor league outings, it is so much fun, with so much going on, it is hard to remember afterwards who won or lost! Tickets range from $7.50 to $11, with an extra dollar for Firework nights, with parking $5-per-car. Devour hot dogs, cold beers, salty pretzels, peanuts in the shell and assorted ballpark food the Miracle prices moderately.
Games continue through Sunday, September 3, including home contests every weekend, with the exception of the final one in July and third weekend in August. Friday Fireworks games are June 30, July 7 & 21 and August 4, 11 & 25, as well as Monday, July 3. Friday displays last roughly 8 minutes, while a special fireworks performance on July 3 that will be 18 minutes long!
Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex is at 14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway, 33912, roughly 15 minutes from Fort Myers Beach. For a schedule, to purchase tickets, or information see www.miraclebaseball.com. Enjoy good baseball, fine weather and on Friday nights and July 3, breathtaking fireworks.
Sidebar: It’s Tebow Time!
The Fort Myers Miracle were already planning a big four-game set when they host the St. Lucie Mets, the Single A affiliate of the New York Mets, for The Fourth of July Holiday Weekend (Friday-Monday) but then Christmas came in July for the Miracle Ticket Office when the Mets promoted former University of Florida star quarterback Tim Tebow to St. Lucie, meaning he will play in the upcoming weekend series in Fort Myers.
Tebow gained almost mythical status as the Florida starting quarterback from 2006 to 2009. He led the Gators to National Championships in 2006 and 2008, and became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in 2007. This led the Denver Broncos to select him in the 1st round of the 2010 National Football League (NFL) draft.
After starting 14 games at quarterback for Denver, for an 8 – 6 career record, he led the Broncos in a 2011 playoff upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, before being traded to the New York Jets. Tebow never started another NFL contest, making him the only quarterback in league history to win a playoff game before the age of 30 and then never start another NFL game.
Following several broadcasting stints, the Mets signed Tebow to a minor league baseball contract, assigning him to its Low-A Columbia South Carolina Fireflies to begin 2017. On Monday, June 25th, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson announced that Tebow would be promoted to the St. Lucie team.
St. Lucie recently completed the first half of the Florida State League season at 33-35, tied with the Miracle for 3rd place in the South Division. The Miracle take on the Mets on Friday, June 30, at 7:05 p.m.; Saturday, July 1 at 6:05 p.m.; Sunday, July 2, at 4:05 p.m.; and Monday, July 3, at 7:05 p.m., with fireworks following the Friday & Monday games. For tickets or related information see www.miraclebaseball.com.