Fort Myers Miracle are Hot
When sports fans hear “printing playoff tickets,” you generally assume the end of the regular season is right around the corner. For the defending 2018 Florida State League (FSL) Fort Myers Miracle, the Single A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, however, their first playoff game is still 2-1/2 months away!
No, the Miracle are not an improbable 70 games ahead with 69 regular season games to go! The FSL, celebrating its 100th anniversary, divides its season into two halves, meaning its two First Half Divisional Winners qualify for the playoffs held the first week of September. The Miracle won the South Division 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 Place on June 3, but the Miracle won 7 of their last 11 games, while the Marauders went just 4 & 7 and Cardinals 3 & 6.
The Miracle’s 39 – 27 record was second in the FSL, behind only the 41 – 24 mark of the North Champion Dunedin Blue Jays. Each First Half Champ can either begin September’s opening round best-of-three series with one home game or the final two home contests, if necessary. Fort Myers, choosing the second option, will host Game #2 on Wednesday, September 4 and possibly Game #3 on Thursday, September 5, with the box office opening at 5:30 p.m. and first pitch at 6:30. They, however, may have briefly considered reversing that strategy, as to date the Miracle are struggling mightily at Hammond Stadium at the Century Link Sports Complex, barely finishing their First Half home slate at just over .500 at 17 – 15, while being Road Warriors at 22 – 12, losing just one away series.
While ultimately winning the First Half title, Fort Myers success was no surprise, as most baseball people felt the Miracle fielded an extraordinarily strong roster. The 2019 Miracle had a distinctively 2018 Championship feel to it, with 15 players returning from last year’s squad, headlined by 20-year-old shortstop Royce Lewis, Major League Baseball’s 2017 #1 overall pick that every scouting service ranks as one of the Top Ten major league prospects. Despite being a true five-tool player who can hit, hit for power, run, field and throw, as well as being an FSL All-Star, 2019 so far has been a struggle for young Lewis, who hit just .226 with 2 home runs, 17 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
Joining Lewis on the Miracle are 7 members of the Twins top 28-ranked “Baseball America” prospects, including outfielder Trevor Larnach at #5, pitcher Jhoan Duran at #7, catcher Ryan Jeffers #9, 3rd baseman Jose Miranda at #13, outfielder Akil Baddoo #19, 2nd baseman Michael Helman at #27 and centerfielder Aaron Whitefield at #28, with the speedy Baddoo injured for the year. To illustrate this talent depth, the Miracle led the FSL with 8 All-Star selections: 1st baseman Lewin Diaz, relief pitcher Tom Hackimer, Jeffers, Larnach, Lewis, relief pitchers Alex Phillips & Johan Quezada, and starting pitcher Bryan Sammons, though Minnesota promoted Hackimer and Sammons to Double A Pensacola before the All-Star Game.
In addition to this bevy of players, the Miracle coaching staff, owing to Fort Myers winning the 2018 FSL Championship, managed the South squad that won the June 14 All-Star game in Jupiter, 2 to 0, with Diaz driving in the winning run and Phillips earning the save. This staff was different from the 2018 one, however, as Minnesota as a reward, promoted manager Ramon Borrego to run Pensacola.
Taking his place is manager Toby Gardenhire, who 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, currently manages the Detroit Tigers, and owns a Fort Myers home. The younger Gardenhire is in his 2nd year managing in the Minnesota system, going 77 – 62 last year at Cedar Rapids while guiding the Kernels to the Midwest League playoffs.
Diaz and Larnach to date are the Miracle’s one-two punch! Diaz last season was the Twin’s #10-ranked prospect, but fell off the list after a devastating wrist injury cost him 2018’s Second Half. Larnach was the Twin’s 2018 #1 draft pick, after hitting the game-winning home run to lead Oregon State to the last year’s College World Series Championship.
In the 2019 First Half, Diaz finished in 1st place in the FSL in total bases with 113; 2nd in home runs with 13, slugging percentage at .538, and OPS at .873; 4th in runs at 34, 5th in RBI at 36; and 8th in batting average at .290 and hits with 61. He set the Miracle monthly home run record in May with 10 dingers, becoming the first Fort Myers player in its 28-year history to hit 3 in one game, on May 16 versus Bradenton.
With Diaz breaking the team home run mark, it seemed impossible for a Miracle to have a better May, but Larnach did, being named the FSL Player of The Month! Through the First Half, Larnach led the league in hits with 73 and doubles with 20; is 2nd in batting average at .311 and total bases to Diaz at 110; 3rd in OPS at .849 and on-base percentage at .381; 4th in slugging percentage at .468; and 7th in RBI with 33.
Getting hot down the stretch drive was Jeffers, who hit three big home runs in the final week to finish tied for 3rd in the league with 8; outfielder Ernie De La Trinidad who hit .391; and Whitefield who is third in the FSL with 19 stolen bases. The Miracle led the league in home runs with 53, including 31 for a new club mark in May, with that figure alone more than their pitching staff surrendered during the entire First Half with just 30, with its pitchers second in the league in ERA and strikeouts.
The Second Half
The Miracle begins the season’s second half with 7 of their first 9 games on the road, returning to Hammond Stadium for 15 of 21 games from June 27 through July 18. Monday home games are “Dollar Dog Days” with hot dogs for $1; Tuesdays are “2-for-1” tacos, domestic beers and sodas; “Thirsty Thursdays” offer $1 & $2 domestic beers; Fridays have post-game fireworks; Saturdays special giveaways; and Sundays are “Family Funday” with local Dairy Queens providing ticket vouchers and kids 12 & under running the bases after the game. The Miracle will host a special fireworks display on The Fourth of July.
Tickets range from $7.50 to $12; purchase them on-line at www.milb.com, at the box office that opens 90 minutes prior to each game, or over the telephone at 239-768-4210, though that has a $2 processing fee. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday contests start at 7 p.m., Wednesdays featuring “Big Splash” attractions for children at Noon, Saturdays at 6 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m., with parking $5-per-car. They have two long weekend home stands coming up beginning Thursday, June 27 and again on Thursday, July 4. Experience that Championship Feeling with the Fort Myers Miracle!
By Gary Mooney