Fire Frogs Bring Baseball Culture Back to Orlando Area
For most of my life, I have been attending professional baseball games and touring ballparks throughout the country. My dad would weave ballpark visits around family vacations. In college, I took road trips with friends to visit parks; one trip we appropriately named “Ballparks and Breweries” — we even made t-shirts. I have always loved baseball as a game, but I also have a special affinity for the atmosphere of the game and the venues in which the game is played.
The Florida Fire Frogs, formerly the Brevard County Manatees, are in their inaugural season in the Florida State League and hold their home games at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee. The stadium was the Spring Training home to the Houston Astros prior to their recent move to Palm Beach. It was also home to the Florida State League’s of the Houston Astros Osceola Astros (1985-1994) and Kissimmee Cobras (1995-2000), both Astros affiliates. The Fire Frogs are an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, who currently hold Spring Training in nearby Lake Buena Vista. The Orlando area has been without a Minor League Baseball franchise since the Orlando Rays (Rays AA affiliate) left in 2003.
Living in western Orange County, we are approximately 25 miles from the stadium, making it the closest Florida State League franchise to most of suburban Orlando. On Friday May 5th, a month into the season, I made my first trip to see the Florida State League’s newest team. My wife, daughter (5) and son (19 months) had tickets in section 218, Row 12 along the third base line. While I took my son to a Detroit Tigers Spring Training game in March, this was the first pro baseball game my daughter had ever attended.
We arrived just in time for the start of the game and to witness a nine run First Inning by the Fire Frogs. Three Home Runs got the game off to an explosive start and the kids immediately got caught up in the excitement. While bringing young children to the game does not allow you to fully engage in every pitch, it accomplishes perhaps a more important priority; growing an early appreciation for the game. My daughter spent a considerable amount of time chasing around Striker, the team mascot, and was thrilled to participate in the “shoe race” at the end of the 3rd Inning. In fact, between the 17 runs scored by the Fire Frogs, the mascot and fun between innings, she had completely forgotten about the bounce houses available in the Kids Zone area.
The Fire Frogs captured their 13th win of the season that night and are working their way back toward the .500 mark. As an Atlanta Braves affiliate, their roster has a number of top prospects, including Florida State League “Player of the Week,” third baseman Austin Riley and outfielder Alex Jackson, who each homered and combined for sever RBIs that night. The Braves are consistently ranked as having one of the top farm systems in baseball.
Ordering tickets online placed me on the team’s email list post-game updates, released at the conclusion of each game. Their communications team puts together a well written and detailed recap of each game. The Fire Frogs put together a great Team Store, stocked with plethora of items bearing their name and logo; my kids picked up a few things. The menu was mostly standard ballpark fare (hot dogs, peanuts and beer is typically all I require). One can expect as the team settles into their new digs, some new creative food options will follow. There were 1,308 in attendance which is slightly above average for the season thus far. As more Orlando area residents become aware the team is here, bigger crowds will surely ensure.
Orlando area residents have not had a relationship with a ball club in over a decade. Living near Orlando, I have learned that most of the areas residents gravitate to the MLB team they grew up with, especially if they are relocated from other states (myself included). The Tampa Bay Rays are the closest MLB team in proximity to Orlando and enjoy some support, but you will see more people flaunting Yankees and Red Sox caps any day of the week. The Miami Marlins have two World Series wins, but their fan base is mostly isolated to South Florida. Gaining a Florida State League team in the Orlando area, gives the region an opportunity to connect with a franchise. The affiliation with the Atlanta Braves should be helpful, given that the Braves have been hosting Spring Training at Disney for the past 20 years. Should they relocate their Spring Training (as planned), the Braves franchise can maintain ties to the area through the Fire Frogs.
As a baseball fan, I was very pleased with this first experience with my local club. The family had fun, the fans were engaged and the team put on a hitting clinic. My daughter has already asked me when we are heading to the next game. I look forward to more evenings and afternoons at the ballpark, watching the Florida Fire Frogs.