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Collegiate Summer Leagues

Opening Weekend in the FCSL with the Winter Garden Squeeze

The Florida Collegiate Summer League began their season on June 1st in Sanford with an Opening Night Tailgate and festivities.  On my side of town, the Winter Garden Squeeze won their opener on Friday in Winter Park and returned home for a two game weekend stand.  In my recent article, What’s On Deck for the Collegiate Summer League Baseball in 2023?, I referenced the home field shakeup the Squeeze went through, relocating from West Orange High School to Olympia High School less than two weeks before the season began.

The Squeeze at Olympia

The change also resulted in a shift of the schedule that requires games to be played during the day.  The move to Olympia may have shifted the Squeeze outside Winter Garden, but the result also has it’s upside.  The Olympia Titans baseball program has long been a force on the Central Florida high school baseball scene.  They’re known for producing top tier talent, including MLB players Nick Gordon (Twins),  Jesse Winker (Brewers) and Brad Miller (Rangers).

It also works out well that the Squeeze Head Coach, Mike McDaniel, is the Head Coach for Olympia High School.  He and his assistant Scott Garland, along with Jason Sanders (Mt. Dora Christian Academy) make up the Squeeze coaching staff.  They also keep a pristine field at Olympia High School and the arrangement of the bleachers and concession stand, makes for a intimate and enjoyable environment to watch baseball.

Slide into Summer Weekend

The Squeeze played Saturday 6/3 at 1:00pm against the Deland Suns, who they defeated the night before.  Local baseball legends and World Series Champion, Johnny Damon, was on-hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.  In addition to throwing out the pitch, Damon spent time with players, coaches and fans.  He also left behind some A-Game, his sports hydration drink, for sale or earned as prizes at the Squeeze concession stand.  The Squeeze responded to the support from the Champ quite well, putting up 11 hits on the game and securing a 7-6 victory the Suns.  For the full game recap, check out Squeeze Secure Sweep at Home, by Squeeze intern Christian Rapoza.  The Orange Observer also did a nice feature on the game.

On Sunday, word caught on and the crowd poured in.  The push by the Squeeze heading into opening weekend was getting youth baseball players to the games.  Kids from Winter Garden and Windermere Little Leagues became part of the action playing catch with players before the game and taking the field with them as they were called out to position.  There was Johnny Damon trivia questions, a dance contest, a dizzly bat race and a tennis ball hitting contest.  Kids ran the bases at the bottom of the 5th inning.  Some of the cool prizes included, bottles of A-Game, an autographed Johnny Damon baseball card and Squeeze hats.

Learning the Local Legends

One of the most unique ideas was the baseball card exchange program.  Being that the league doesn’t have an endless number of baseballs, the crowd is asked to return the balls to the concession stand for a prize.  The Squeeze have developed a way to educate young fans on the game with a “local legends” baseball card exchange.  General Manager Adam Bates explains, “Our area is rich with baseball talent and we’ve got kids from all over Central Florida (including many FCSL alumni) who have gone on to play in the big leagues.  What better way to educate and engage our young fans than with baseball cards of those players?  We see it as an opportunity to connect the dots with these young kids who play baseball in our community.  Who knows?  The next local legend could be sitting right here in the stands at the Squeeze game!”

This weekend card giveaways included, of course, Johnny Damon, but also Olympia’s own Brad Miller and Jesse Winker and Windermere High School’s Bryce Hubbart (Squeeze alum), who’s currently pitching in the Cincinnati Reds system.  These “local legends” baseball cards will continue to be Squeeze led initiative throughout the season.

The Season Ahead

Looking at the schedule, the majority of home games for the Squeeze this season will be during the weekdays starting at 11am.  This might be challenging for some based on work schedules, but perhaps also very convenient for parents with kids at home for the summer.  The next scheduled home games for the Squeeze are Thursday 6/8 and next week Tuesday 6/13 and Thursday 6/15 all early starts.

There are three more weekend games on the Squeeze schedule:  Sunday 6/25, Saturday 7/1 and Sunday 7/9.  Currently, the Squeeze sit at 3-1 having secured a 4-2 victory on the road in Leesburg on Monday night.  If you’re looking for a fun day at the ballpark, with an up-close an personal view of competitive college baseball, be sure to check out Florida Collegiate Summer League action in June and July.  And if you’re on the west side of Orlando, the Winter Garden Squeeze are the team to see.  You’ll also get a chance to meet Bat Boy George (my son) who will be rounding up bats in the Squeeze dugout all season long.  Be sure to follow George on Instagram @kossball too.

Go Squeeze!

Brian is the Managing Editor at Legends on Deck and Co-Host on Legends On Deck Podcast. He's been writing about baseball at LOD since 2017. He grew up in the Detroit area and is a lifelong Tigers fan. However, he shares some affinity for his son George's favorite team, the Atlanta Braves. Brian also has a particular interest in the amateur side of the game, including high school, college and collegiate summer league baseball. Brian and George also love collecting and selling baseball cards. You can find them selling on eBay (@Kossball) or posting on George's Instagram (@Kossball). Brian lives in Horizon West (Winter Garden), Florida with his wife (Grace), three daughters and George the Card Kid. You can also reach him at brianmkoss@gmail.com

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