Florida Fire Frogs Set to Depart Kissimmee
In just their third season since moving from Viera (Brevard County), the Florida Fire Frogs are set for relocation. They have been bought out of their use of Osceola County Stadium and will leave after the 2019 season. The Fire Frogs are the High-A (Florida State League) affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have recently moved their Spring Training facility from Walt Disney World to North Port (Sarasota County).
There are a number of factors at play in this move. First, Osceola County has a much more lucrative offer for the use of the land. Orlando City Soccer Club (MLS) is planning to invest in a large scale training facility which will also host Orlando City B, the minor league team of OCSC. This will move OCB from their current home at Montverde Academy. This development is likely a much better deal for Osceola County, given the popularity of the MLS franchise in Orlando. A rumor persists that the Braves originally moved their FSL franchise to Kissimmee with the understanding that Osceola County would invest in facility upgrades. That has not happened.
Second, the Braves as a franchise are probably much better off having their High-A affiliate at their new Spring Training facility. The only other Florida State League team who does not share a Spring Training home with their parent team is the Daytona Tortugas (Cincinnati Reds). Perhaps not accidentally, they have some of the highest attendance in the FSL. This approach works well for most of the FSL teams, who’s MLB affiliates have front office personnel working in their Florida home. While there is no confirmation that the Braves are moving the Fire Frogs to North Port, the move would make the most sense for their franchise.
Third, Osceola County and other Central Florida localities have really made no effort to invest in Spring Training or the Florida State League. The exception is the longstanding agreement between Lakeland and the Detroit Tigers. Just a few short years ago, the Nationals were in Viera, the Astros in Kissimmee and the Braves at Disney. Going back to the early 2000s, the Indians were in Winter Haven and the Royals were in Davenport.
This move opens up more questions about the future of baseball in Central Florida. In my previous article, I made the case for the Rays to consider moving outside the Tampa / St. Pete area to Orlando. Whether the Rays relocate or not, the growth of the Orlando suburbs continues to offer a number opportunities for professional baseball. The competition level for youth and amateur baseball in metro Orlando rivals anywhere in the country. The market is there. What’s missing is a vision and a plan.