After undergoing a substantial reorganization, Minor League Baseball is embarking upon a new era in 2021. There are now 120 teams competing in 11 newly named leagues, comprising four levels of play (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A). This is the 10th in a series of league-by-league articles, highlighting one unique fact about each team.
Thinking of the Low-A Southeast League? Then think Florida. The 10 teams of the Low-A East are all located in the Sunshine State, and all 10 of them used to operate within the Florida State League. Nine of these teams compete in the Spring Training home of their parent club; the only team that does not, the Daytona Tortugas, play at historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark.
What follows is one unique, and often strange and surprising, fact about each team in the Low-A Southeast.
Cincinnati Reds affiliate since 2015
The Tortugas’ Jackie Robinson Ballpark is the oldest stadium in all of Minor League Baseball. It first opened in 1914 as City Island Ballpark, originally consisting of little more than a playing field and wooden bleachers. Jackie Robinson spent 1946 Spring Training playing at City Island Ballpark, marking his first games as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, and in 1989 the stadium was renamed in his honor. A statue of Robinson stands outside the ballpark, and the exterior concourse features an outdoor museum commemorating his time in Daytona Beach and his storied career as a whole.
Miami Marlins affiliate since 2002
The Hammerheads, members of the Florida State League from 2002-20, played their longest game in franchise history on May 24, 2011. This contest, a 2-1 victory over Clearwater, took a whopping 23 innings to complete. This was far from being the longest game in FSL history, however. On June 14, 1966, the Miami Marlins beat the Petersburg Cardinals, 4-3, in a 29-inning marathon. This stood as the longest game in professional baseball history until 1981, when the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings played a 33-inning game.
Palm Beach Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals affiliate since 2003
Casey Mulligan played six seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, two as a position player and four as a pitcher. He was a reliever for the Palm Beach Cardinals in 2009, compiling a 1.61 ERA over 26 appearances. But for as well as Mulligan pitched, he was a better dancer. During a memorable rain delay at the Cardinals’ home of Roger Dean Stadium, Mulligan came out of the dugout and entertained the hardy fans who remained with a surprisingly well-choreographed rendition of “Thriller.” A YouTube video of Mulligan’s slick moves has garnered over 100,000 views.
St. Lucie Mets
New York Mets affiliate since 1988
“Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, banana phone!” In 2010, for some reason (or perhaps no reason at all), the St. Lucie Mets started playing this Raffi earworm whenever the opposing team made a call to the bullpen. The tradition continues to this day. Over the years, the Mets have given away a variety of “Banana Phone” promotional items, from figurines to picture magnets to t-shirts. Despite this decade of uninterrupted “Banana Phone” mania, Raffi has yet to make a promotional appearance at a St. Lucie Mets game.
Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate since 2010
Daytona’s Jackie Robinson Ballpark is the oldest stadium in Minor League Baseball. Coming in at number two is Bradenton’s LECOM Park, which opened in 1923 as City Park and was known as McKechnie Field from 1963-2017 (in honor of Hall of Famer and longtime Bradenton resident Bill McKechnie). Prior to the arrival of the Marauders in 2010, the ballpark hadn’t hosted Minor League Baseball since the Florida State League’s Bradenton Growers played there in 1926. Spring Training has been a near-constant, however, beginning with the 1923 St. Louis Cardinals and continuing through today’s Pittsburgh Pirates.
Philadelphia Phillies affiliate since 1985
NSYNC fans, of which there are many, may recall a well-known photo of the band in which they are all sporting Philadelphia Phillies jerseys. This picture was taken in 1996, when Justin, Lance, Joey, Chris and JC, not yet famous, performed at the Threshers’ former home of Jack Russell Stadium. (At that point in time, the team was known as the Phillies.) This performance was perhaps facilitated by a family connection. John Timberlake, then Clearwater’s general manager and currently the Phillies’ director of Florida operations, is Justin’s uncle.
Dunedin Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays affiliate since 1987
When the Dunedin Blue Jays — or D-Jays — play their home opener on May 11 against Tampa, it will mark the first time since 2018 that they have played a game in Dunedin. The team’s home of TD Ballpark underwent substantial renovations following 2019 Spring Training, forcing the team to utilize Clearwater’s Jack Russell Memorial Stadium as their primary home ballpark during the 2019 regular season. The change of location didn’t affect the D-Jay’s performance, as they went 80-55 en route to handily winning the Florida State League’s North Division. The opportunity for the team to win their first-ever outright league championship was denied, however, as Hurricane Dorian forced the cancellation of the entirety of the 2019 FSL playoffs.
Fort Myers Mighty Mussels
Minnesota Twins affiliate since 1992
After 28 seasons as the Miracle, Fort Myers has rebranded as the Mighty Mussels. The franchise has a long history with “mighty muscles,” however. In 2008, a local strongman named David “Mighty” Gonzalez established a world record by doing 983 keg lifts over the course of a Thirsty Thursday ballgame at Fort Myers’ Hammond Stadium. Each keg lift was 145 pounds, meaning Gonzalez hoisted approximately 142,000 pounds over the course of this physically arduous evening.
Lakeland Flying Tigers
Detroit Tigers affiliate since 1967
The Lakeland Flying Tigers have been a Detroit affiliate since 1967, tied with the Reading Fightin Phils for the longest affiliation in all of Minor League Baseball. But the city’s Minor League history dates back far longer than that, as Lakeland was a charter member of the Florida State League. The Lakeland Highlanders operated from 1919-26, spending a portion of that time at a ballpark now known as Henley Stadium. That venerable facility, first utilized in 1924, went on to host Lakeland’s FSL squad in 2002 and 2016. On both occasions this was because the team’s home of Joker Marchant Stadium, venerable in its own right, was undergoing extensive renovations.
New York Yankees affiliate since 1994
Prior to the 2018 season, Tampa’s FSL team changed its name from the Yankees to the Tarpons. This moniker hearkened back to a previous era of the city’s league history, as a previous iteration of the Tampa Tarpons existed from 1957-88. This team was a Cincinnati Reds affiliate for most of its existence, and notable alumni included the likes of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Randy Poffo. This latter individual, a member of the 1974 Tarpons, became far better known as professional wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage.