Legends On Deck

How the Squeeze Rebooted Baseball in Winter Garden

At the end of May, I wrote a preview of collegiate summer league baseball.  In 2021, I had the good fortune of attending a Savannah Bananas game and interviewing owner, Jesse Cole.  Recently, on the LOD podcast, David Conde and I interviewed Bananas Head Coach Tyler Gillum.  This season, I had the opportunity to connect with the Royal Oak Leprechauns, attend a ballgame and gain insight into their operations.  Both the Bananas and the Leprechauns offer fans a unique community baseball experience. The amateur nature of collegiate summer ball give fans a chance to experience the game at a grassroots level.

This summer, I also connected with the personnel and players associated with the Winter Garden Squeeze.  The Squeeze are one of six franchises playing in the Florida Collegiate Summer League.  The others include the Deland Suns, Leesburg Lightning, Sanford River Rats, Seminole County Snappers and Winter Park Diamond Dawgs.

Winter Garden Baseball History

The city of Winter Garden, Florida was established in 1908, as a growing community west of Orlando.  It has long been home to citrus farmers.  By the 1920s, the area would attract fishing tourists and Lake Apopka would become known as  the “large mouth bass capital.”  The growth of the area would attract the Washington Senators to host Spring Training at Tinker Field in Orlando.  The Senators would bring their Triple-A affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts, to set up training at Walker Field in Winter Garden.

Walker Field in downtown Winter Garden (from LivingNewDeal.org)

Today, the Winter Garden area has become one of the fastest growing communities anywhere in the country.  The Squeeze began playing their games at West Orange High School beginning in 2014.  The Squeeze nickname also fits perfectly into the city’s citrus history.

They gained a consistent following in their first five seasons.  However, for the previous three seasons (2019-2021), circumstances kept them away from their home field.  Lighting issues, COVID and administrative turnover forced the Squeeze into becoming nomads.

The Comeback Season

Circumstances changed heading into the 2022 season and the Squeeze would return to Winter Garden.  They would (once again) play their home schedule at West Orange High School.   Adam Bates has been General Manager of the Squeeze since their inaugural year.  He told us, “the story of the 2022 season is that the Squeeze have returned and we settled back into our home in Winter Garden.  We have reestablished ourselves as a fixture in the community.”

While the Squeeze might have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, they can point to a number of successes on the field.  Three players represented the Squeeze in the FCSL All-Star Game, Travis Sankovich (IF – South Florida), Noah Dickerson (OF – Arkansas Little Rock) and Garrett Brewer (P – Seminole State).

Travis Sankovich (IF – South Florida)

Travis Sankovich would lead the team in hitting, posting a .311 BA.  Only 16 hitters in the entire league would post above a .300 average.  Windermere native Noah Dickerson would make waves with his power, blasting 4 HRs, 22 RBIs and a 1.040 OPS in just 24 games.  He would also take home the FCSL Home Run Derby Championship.

Noah Dickerson (OF – Arkansas Little Rock)

Apopka native Garrett Brewer‘s appearances on the mound also made a lasting impression.  Over 24 innings of work, he posted 20 strikeouts, a 1.88 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.

Garrett Brewer (P – Seminole State)

 

Coaching the Squeeze

Mike McDaniel would serve in his first season as Head Coach of the Squeeze in 2022.  He came over from the Seminole County Snappers.  Coach McDaniel is also known for steering the ship over at Olympia High School.  In recent years, the Titans have been one of the most successful programs in the state (and country). McDaniel’s jam packed baseball schedule also includes coaching the FTB Phillies Scout Team.

Coach Mike McDaniel looks on with intensity.

McDaniel’s coaching staff with the Squeeze includes his Olympia assistants Scott Garland and Angel Otero.  It also includes Jason Sanders, Head Coach at Mt. Dora Christian Academy.  McDaniel said of his decision to move to the Squeeze, “when I saw the opening, I jumped on it!  It just made good sense for me to be here in west Orange County.”  Coach McDaniel is also very optimistic about the Squeeze’s return to Winter Garden.  “I think this is a great community for summer collegiate baseball.  We had some really strong support from the local business community this season.  The more people know we are back in Winter Garden, the more our support will continue to grow.”

New Beginnings for Old Traditions

Next season, the Squeeze will celebrate their 10th anniversary in the FCSL.  Adam Bates sees big things for the future of the franchise.  “We have a great opportunity to make the connection between Winter Garden’s baseball history and the baseball rich environment we have in this area today.  We have a vibrant youth baseball scene and a lot of talent coming out of our local high schools.”

Bates also sees great potential for the Squeeze brand.  “We’ve got a growing community that loves baseball, an iconic logo and great local partners.  We are going to celebrate all these assets we have as a franchise going into our upcoming anniversary season.  What we need is to continue to grow the local fan base.  When you think of Winter Garden, you should think of Squeeze baseball.”

The pieces are all in place for growing summer collegiate baseball in Winter Garden.  Each season the Squeeze roster consist of plenty of local kids, who play for colleges and universities around the state of Florida.  The FCSL season is part homecoming, part showcase for the talent the region has to offer.  This past Sunday, the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs defeated the Leesburg Lightning in the FCSL Championship Series.  At Legends on Deck, we are looking forward to covering the entire Florida Collegiate Summer League in more depth next season.

 

***Photo credit goes to Winter Garden Squeeze intern Lindsey Tellez.***

Brian Koss
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