Home runs flew, quality pitchers threw and the weather was anything but blue, highlighting the 55th Florida State League (FSL) All-Star Game at Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex on Saturday, June 18, with the visiting North defeating the South 1 to 0.
With the first pitch at 7:05 p.m., pre-game activities started at 4:30, with autographs and photographs with the All Stars. To the credit of Miracle fans and supporters of other teams who travelled to Hammond, several thousand jammed the walkway 2-1/2 hours prior to game time, with long lines awaiting each row of players.
Following this came the Home Run Derby. The two most consistent performers, Mitch Walding of the Clearwater Threshers and Ryan McBroom of the Dunedin Blue Jays, met in the Final, with Walding the victor. I admit a prejudice for the latter, however, because his nickname was perfect for a HR Champ: “Boom Boom” McBroom!
Fort Myers received the honor to host the FSL 2016 All-Star Game for two reasons: to showcase the $48 million Hammond Stadium 2014 renovation that now makes it a 360-degree enclosed facility, and to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Fort Myers Miracle, the Single A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The weather for the Miracle was miraculous! Southwest Florida almost never experiences a June cold front, but one moved through, providing relief from humidity, a refreshing breeze, and eliminated any chance of rain, with the exception of a single bolt that brought a collective groan from the 5,000 in attendance.
With the game ready to begin, players from the North and South went through introductions. Don Siemon, a 90-years-young World War II soldier married for 71 years, received a warm welcome during the Veteran’s Salute, and Sarah Hardwig delivered The National Anthem. The crowd observed a Moment of Silence in memory of the recent Orlando tragedy, before a Lee County Sheriff’s Office helicopter apparently attempted a flyover, though it hovered for just a second over left-center before flying off into the setting sun.
As for the game, it moved fast, with 21 combined pitchers holding batters to just 11 total hits. The sole tally was in the 6th inning: Lakeland Flying Tigers Christin Stewart doubled and Brevard County Manatee catcher Dustin Houle drove him home with a 2-out single. The FSL assigned 6 umpires to the contest, tripling its normal allotment, and local weather and tuba legend Jim Syoen burbled “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” during the 7th Inning Stretch.
The Miracle had eight players on the South team. All five pitchers threw one inning, with Felix Jorge starting and Yorman Landa unfortunately taking the loss. Two Miracles had Hero Potential: with the tying run on 1st base and one out in the 9th inning, 1st baseman Trey Vavra then outfielder Edgar Corcino took their cuts, but neither delivered, ending the competition.
Minor league baseball is the Norman Rockwell of American sport. Whether Moms pushing strollers, seniors walking hand-in-hand, or teenagers out on a Saturday night, the environment coupled with ideal weather made for an enchanting evening. Between innings, fans cheered various activities, from chasing down a slice of running pizza to a water balloon contest to kids scurrying barefoot in the outfield to find their own shoes in a mountain of others. The Miracle does a fantastic job of entertaining the crowd from first pitch to last.
As happens in low-scoring affairs, the game raced by in 2-1/2 hours. While it ended in a whimper, All-Star Festivities concluded with a bang! A ten-minute fireworks extravaganza exploded in a brilliant display, eliciting ohhs-&-ahhs from the delighted crowd.
The Miracle host two remaining postgame firework shows on Sunday, July 3, and Saturday, August 13, at 6:05 p.m. They have 38 remaining Home dates through September 4; for tickets or information call 239-768-4210 or see www.miraclebaseball.com.
The 55th annual Florida State League All-Star Game, where the stars were out during the day, and the fireworks at night!
Photos by Gary Mooney