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Florida Collegiate Summer League

Sliding into Summer with the Winter Garden Squeeze

The Winter Garden Squeeze made their awaited return to West Orange High School on June 1, followed by a busy week of home games to settle into the 2024 season.  While the team is off to a 4-4 start, the entire “Squeeze Squad,” as General Manager Adam Bates refers to has laid a foundation for success this summer. “Our whole operation is solid this season.  I call them all the Squeeze Squad. This includes players, coaches, interns, host families, bat boys, community volunteers and partners. We’ve got a motivated group of players (several returning), our coaching staff is amazing, our interns are hardworking and stepping up to new challenges every day.

Be Our Guest

If you are not familiar with collegiate summer baseball, it is a true grassroots operation.  Some players return to the Orlando area from their campuses to play in the FCSL, while others travel from all over the country. Those players are placed with volunteer host families, who open up their homes to provide housing for these college ballplayers. Without these families, essentially the league wouldn’t function. It can also be one of the most challenging aspects of pulling together the whole operation each season.

Host families have really come through this season.  We have every player with a need to housing placed. It’s hard to overstate how important their generosity is in opening their homes to players who come here from all over the country.  It’s a truly unique and special experience for both the players and their host families,” explained Bates.

Real World Experience

The goal of any internship program is to provide interns with an experience they can take away that they can apply to their future careers. The FCSL interns get a hands-on experience in all aspects of the game.  Communications interns provide the play-by-play to the broadcasts, interview coaches and players and recap the games.  Meanwhile, operations interns provide the manpower to run the in-game experiences.  From ticket sales, to between innings entertainment, to concessions, working with team sponsors, assistance with social media and all things in-between.  Bates says, “it really is an all-hands-on-deck operation.  Our interns are really going to participate in parts of everything we do.”

In a similar fashion, the players are here to sharpen their skills coming off the spring season.  The roster features a number of return players including Zack Stokes (West Florida), Todd Clay (UAB) and Cole Resetar (Pace).  It even includes a few local West Orange High School graduates Nolan Maroth (Tennessee), Titan Kamaka (FSU) and Max McClusky (Embry-Riddle). Nico Banez (Darmouth) is an Olympia High School grad.

The Squeeze are led once again by Head Coach Mike McDaniel and Scott Garland (Olympia), along with longtime Lake Mary High School Head Coach, Jeff Perez.  This season, former Detroit Tigers pitcher, Mike Maroth, joins the Squeeze as their pitching coach.  Coach McDaniel shared his thoughts on the beginning of the season, “I feel like we’re off to a good start with everyone getting equal opportunities to play with a full roster. It’s a talented group and we fully expect to make the playoffs and get back to the championship series in 2024.

Rally Around Winter Garden

In 2023, the Squeeze played home games at Olympia High School, outside the city of Winter Garden.  While the conditions of the facility at Olympia were fantastic, playing outside the city gave the Squeeze less of a connection to their local community.  In 2024, the Squeeze have returned home to Winter Garden in full force.  On Tuesday June 4, the team celebrated the first decade of Squeeze baseball.

Signed schedule from the inaugural 2014 season.

Community groups and local businesses are bought in as well.  Tuesday night’s game was sponsored by Jet’s Pizza of Ocoee; they provided team meals following the game.  Thursday’s game (rain out) was scheduled as a night for the Winter Garden Elks.  It was set as a fundraiser for Matthew’s Hope, a local non-profit organization focused on assisting the homeless.  Saturday’s double header included a ceremony celebrating the District 14 (8-9 Year Old) Champions from Winter Garden Little League. Chicken from Squeeze partner Huey Magoo’s of Horizon West provided the team meal.

Another example of community engagement is the team of bat boys.  Pulling from the relationship with Winter Garden Little League and other local organizations, the Squeeze Squad extends to youngsters looking to gain experience on the field with the big guys.  It’s fun, summertime gig for these young ballplayers.

2024 Squeeze Bat Boys

Looking Ahead to the Next Decade

As the Squeeze play out their 2024 season and look to the future there are all kinds of opportunities on the horizon.  The city of Winter Garden has made a significant investment in local baseball over the past couple years.  Winter Garden Little League has received an investment from the city and have undergone renovations putting in turf fields.

There remains one field (senior field) that could serve as an ideal future home for the Squeeze.  With the correct dimensions and a few upgrades, the field could prove suitable for collegiate play.  This could potentially tie in the history of baseball in the city, as home to Spring Training baseball, along with continued city plans to develop downtown. Imagine a small-scale ballpark hosting a downtown, collegiate baseball experience, akin to a minor league franchise.  Plant Street Market in centerfield, all in walking distance to shops and restaurants in downtown Winter Garden.  The elements are all in place for such a idea to take hold.

One thing is for sure, the future success of Winter Garden Squeeze baseball is intertwined with the vibrancy of this growing community.  The engagement seen this season is very encouraging and the future looks bright for Squeeze baseball in the city of Winter Garden.

Legends on Deck is proud to be the media partner of the Winter Garden Squeeze.  We look forward to continuing to chronicle their journey throughout the 2024 season and beyond!

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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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