Playoffs Begin September 3; Home Playoff Game September 4
The Fort Myers Miracle, the Single A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, begin their defense of their 2018 Florida State League (FSL) Championship Crown on September 3. Should the Miracle repeat in 2019, it will mark their third FSL trophy in six seasons, as they won their first title in the team’s 27-year history in 2014.
The Miracle qualified for the playoffs by winning the South Divisions 1st Half Championship that concluded on Thursday, June 13. The FSL, celebrating its 100th anniversary, divides its season into two halves, meaning its two First Half Divisional Winners already qualified for the playoffs. The Miracle seized the South by three games each over the Bradenton Marauders of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and the Palm Beach Cardinals. These teams battled for South Division supremacy throughout the First Half, with all three tied for First on June 3, but the Miracle won 7 of their last 11 games, while the Marauders went just 4 – 7 and Cardinals 3 – 6.
Fort Myers will start their title defense on the road for their opening round best-of-three series on Tuesday, September 3, against the nearby 2nd Half South Champions, the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the affiliate of the Tampa Rays, at Charlotte Sports Park. The Miracle return home for Game #2 on Wednesday, September 4, at Hammond Stadium at the CenturyLink Sports Complex at 14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway. If a deciding Game #3 is necessary, the Miracle will host it on Thursday, September 5; all game times are 6:30 p.m.
Should the Miracle advance, they travel to the eventual North Division titlist’s home field for the best-of-five Championship Round on Friday and Saturday, September 6 & 7, before returning to Hammond Stadium for Game 3 on Sunday, September 8, and if necessary Games 4 & 5 on Monday and Tuesday, September 9 & 10; all at 6:30 p.m. Remember, however, Hurricane Dorian can play havoc with these dates, so check in advance at www.milb.com/Fort-Myers or www.milb.com/Florida-State.
Tale of Two Teams
It was no surprise the Miracle won the FSL First Half South, as most baseball people felt Fort Myers fielded an extraordinarily strong roster. It had a distinctively 2018 Championship feel to it, with 15 players returning, headlined by shortstop Royce Lewis, Major League Baseball’s 2017 #1 overall pick. Joining Lewis were 7 members of the Twins Top 20-ranked prospects, including their 2018 #1 draft pick, outfielder Trevor Larnach. To illustrate this depth, the Miracle led the FSL with 8 All-Star selections.
Of the 25 players on their Opening Night roster, 17 received promotions to Double A Pensacola, one to Triple A Rochester, and starting pitcher Randy Dobnak has made it all the way to “The Show” with the Big League Twins, a rare feat to go from Single A to the Majors within one season!
There are just 6 First Half Miracle players on the Second Half roster, making their current 35 – 31 record, good for 2nd Place in the South behind the Stone Crabs, most impressive! While the First Half club featured 7 Top 20 Twins prospects, including their last two #1 Draft Picks, there are only 3 on the present roster, with no player drafted higher than the fifth round. If the First Half team was star-studded, the Second Half club are Working Class Heroes! What makes their performance even more outstanding is they started just 3 – 10, mired in last place, but are playing at nearly a .600 win percentage since, causing die-hard Miracle fans to ask which is more impressive this season: the highly-touted First Half team winning the South, or the Second Half “Hard Hats” playing at above .500?
Three Miracle players remain from the 2018 Championship team: infielder Jose Miranda, the Twins 20th-ranked prospect, whose three home runs in last year’s title run were huge, with outfielders Ernie De La Trinidad and Aaron Whitefield. Despite all the pitching promotions, the Miracle still feature six strong starters, headlined by 5th-ranked prospect Jordan Balazovic and #12 Blayne Enlow. The Bullpen might be the key, as they alternate between red hot and extremely hittable.
The Miracle are third in the FSL in home runs with 91, including 31 for a new monthly club mark in May, and are second in doubles with 209. Their pitching staff leads the FSL in strikeouts with 1,149 while allowing the fewest home runs with 51, and is second in ERA at 3.12 and walks allowed with 355. They are now 39 – 29 on the road, and while they scuffled to remain above .500 at Hammond Stadium for most of the season, they were hot at home at the right time, winning 9 of their last 12.
Perhaps the one phrase that best sums up the excellence of all Miracle personnel during 2019 is that, while many received promotions to higher levels, the Twins did not release a single player, an almost unheard-of group achievement at the Single A level!
Final Regular Season Weekend
While the FSL Playoffs are right around the corner, the Miracle conclude their 2019 Regular Season this weekend with three games against the Clearwater Threshers of the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Friday features the year’s final post-game fireworks display, with first pitch at 7 p.m.; Saturday is the last “Dog Days,” bobblehead giveaway and “Baseball & Beer Fest,” with the game at 6 p.m. Sunday is not only the “Family Funday” with local Dairy Queens providing ticket vouchers and kids 12 & under running the bases after the game, but an “All You Can Eat” Brunch is just $10, with a special start time of 11 a.m.
Tickets range from $7.50 to $12; purchase them on-line at www.milb.com, at the box office that opens 60 minutes prior to each game, or over the telephone at 239-768-4210, though that has a $2 processing fee, with parking $5-per-car. Experience that Championship Feeling Again with the Fort Myers Miracle!
By Gary Mooney
UPDATE: Due to the threat of Hurricane Dorian, the Florida State League has cancelled the remainder of the regular season and all playoff games.