The Boys of Summer Return
The Fort Myers Miracle, the High Single-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and three steps away from the major leagues, returned to Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex last night, in their first step in defending their 2018 Florida State League (FSL) Championship, by taking on the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Tampa Bay Rays organization. The Miracle return to action this evening, again against the Stone Crabs, at 14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway in South Fort Myers. The first pitch is at 6:30 p.m., with fireworks immediately after the game.
The Miracle’s 2018 Championship season was a Jekyll-&-Hyde campaign! The FSL, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019, splits its 140-game schedule into two 70-game halves, and Fort Myers finished the South Division’s 1st half tied for last place with a 28 – 40 record. Their 2nd half turnaround corresponded with the call-ups of several key players from the Twins Low-A team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, principally baseball’s #1 overall 2017 draft pick in 19-year-old shortstop Royce Lewis, and the Twins 2016 #1 selection, 21-year-old rightfielder Alex Kirilloff. Lewis will start 2019 with the Miracle, but the Twins promoted Kirilloff, who hit a dazzling .362 here, to Double-A Pensacola.
It is fitting the Miracle open 2019 playing the Stone Crabs, because the two squads battled tooth-&-nail for the entire 2018 2nd Half, flip-flopping between 1st and 2nd place, often several times per week, including the season’s final weekend. The Miracle, in fact, did not qualify for the FSL Playoffs until roughly 30 minutes after their regular season!
On that last Sunday, Fort Myers, trailing Charlotte by one game, eked out a 2 – 1 victory over the Clearwater Threshers. The Stone Crabs began their final home game 35 minutes after the Miracle, and held a 2 – 0 lead over Florida into the 7th inning, but to the immense credit of the Fire Frogs, with the league’s worst record and nothing to play for, they rallied for 5 runs over the final three innings to defeat the Stone Crabs, dropping them into a 40 – 29 tie with Fort Myers. Since the Miracle won the 2nd Half series between the two teams 4 games to 2, the 2nd Half Title went to Fort Myers!
Once in the playoffs, Fort Myers swept the Palm Beach Cardinals of the St. Louis organization 2 games to 0 in their 1st Round matchup, then defeated the Daytona Tortugas, the North Division Champs from the Cincinnati Reds, for the FSL Title 3 games to 1. This marked the Miracle’s 2nd FSL Championship in the club’s 27-year history, matching the 2014 feat.
Talent to Spare
The 2019 Miracle roster has a distinctively 2018 Championship feel to it, with 15 players part of last year’s squad, headlined by Lewis at shortstop. If you want to see the 2017 #1 overall pick that every major league scouting service ranks as one of the Top Ten major league prospects and the only one still at the Single-A level, you better attend a First-Half game, because the Twins will almost surely promote him to Pensacola before he turns 20-years-old on June 5. Lewis is a true five-tool prospect who can hit, hit for power, run, field, and throw. Last season, between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, he hit .292 with 14 home runs, 74 RBI, and 28 stolen bases.
Off the field, Lewis seems just as good, as he and his mother sell Humility Chains that he wears around his neck and she makes, to keep him grounded, with a significant portion of all sales going to the “Never Ever Give Up” Foundation to help children fight pediatric cancer.
Joining Lewis from 2018 are pitchers Charlie Barnes, Calvin Faucher, Tom Hackimer, Hector Lujan, Alex Phillips, Bryan Sammons, and Tyler Watson, with Melvi Acosta, Randy Dobnak, Jhoan Duran, Bailey Ober, Johan Quezada and Anthony Vizcaya.
The Miracle infield has a familiar feel, with catcher Ben Rortvedt, 1st basemen Ryan Costello and Lewin Diaz, and 2nd/3rd basemen Travis Blankenhorn and Jose Miranda rejoining Lewis, with newcomers Ryan Jeffers catching and 2nd baseman Michael Helman. Outfielders Mark Contreras and Aaron Whitefield return, joined by Akil Baddoo and the Twins 2018 #1 draft pick Trevor Larnach.
This should be an extremely talented Miracle team, with 9 of the Twins top 28 prospects as ranked by “Baseball America” here, led by Lewis at #1, Larnach #5, Duran at #7, Jeffers #9, Miranda #13, Baddoo #19, Rortvedt #22, Helman at #27, and Whitefield #28.
While most of the Miracle roster is returning, so in his own way is their new manager, Toby Gardenhire. He was a Twins farmhand from 2005 through 2011, including stints with the Miracle in 2007 and 2008. His Dad, Ron, managed the Twins from 2002 through 2014, including Spring Training at Hammond Stadium, and now currently manages the Detroit Tigers and owns a Fort Myers home. The younger Gardenhire is in his 2nd year managing in the Minnesota system, having gone 77 – 62 last year at Cedar Rapids and guiding the Kernels to the Midwest League playoffs.
Gardenhire succeeds Ramon Borrego, who took the Miracle to the 2018 FSL crown in his only season, after 7 years managing the Rookie League Gulf Coast Twins who play as well at the CenturyLink Sports Complex. As his Championship reward, Minnesota promoted Borrego to manage Double-A Pensacola. Joining Gardenhire are pitching coach Lewis Ramirez, hitting coach Matt Borgschulte, trainer Ben Myers, and strength and conditioning coach Chuck Bradway, all like Gardenhire, in their first season with the Miracle.
Following tonight’s home game, the Miracle go on the road Saturday and Sunday, then return to Hammond Stadium for a 4-game series against the Dunedin Blue Jays from Monday, April 8, through Thursday, April 11. Their next weekend home games are against Charlotte again, from Thursday, April 18, through Saturday, April 20, then they conclude April with a 4-game weekend series against Palm Beach from Thursday, April 25, through Sunday, April 28.
The Miracle offers a special incentive for each day of the week. Mondays are “Dollar Dog Days” with hot dogs for $1; Tuesdays are “2-for-1” tacos, domestic beers and sodas; Wednesdays are the “Business Person Special” with a box seat, hot dog and beverage for just $13 at a special start time of 1 p.m.; “Thirsty Thursdays” offer $1 and $2 domestic draft beers; Fridays have post-game fireworks; Saturdays feature special giveaways, with Championship Hats on April 20 and Alex Kirilloff Bobbleheads on April 27; and Sundays are “Family Funday” with local Dairy Queens providing ticket vouchers and kids 12 & under running the bases after the game.
Tickets prices range from $7.50 to $12, with various Season Ticket, Group and Suite packages available. Purchase tickets on-line at www.milb.com, at the Hammond Stadium box office that opens 90 minutes prior to each game, or over the telephone at 239-768-4210, though that comes with a $2 processing fee. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday contests start at 6:30 p.m., Saturdays at 6 p.m., and Wednesdays and Sundays at 1 p.m., with parking $5-per-car. Experience that Championship Feeling with the Fort Myers Miracle!