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Collegiate Summer Leagues

What’s On Deck for Collegiate Summer League Baseball in 2023?

In 2022, I wrote article called The Ascent of Summer Collegiate Summer Baseball previewing the 2022 season.  It had been an area of interest for me going back a couple years.  In 2021, my eyes became fully open to the world of summer collegiate baseball.  I had a little bit of familiarity with the teams and leagues that existed, having taken my kids to see my local team, the Winter Garden Squeeze, a few times in the past.  I always read about the Cape Cod League and how some of the top college prospects would spend their summer, but it wasn’t until I started following The Savannah Bananas that I took a deep dive into collegiate summer baseball.

When I discovered this unique franchise from Savannah, they were playing in the Coastal Plain League.  At the time, the Bananas cross state rival was the Macon Bacon; who continue to play in the CPL as the Bananas went independent.  However, the Jesse Cole story, we have documented here at Legends on Deck, is a story that has it’s roots in collegiate summer baseball.

In 2022, prior to planning a trip to Michigan to see family, I reached out the Royal Oak Leprechauns.  I found the Leprechauns the same way I discovered the Bananas, as a result of an active social media presence.  Then, I discovered the Carolina Disco Turkeys in a similar way.  My interest in the summer “wood bat leagues” has just continued to grow from there.  As we enter the 2023 season, I connected again with these franchises to shine a light on the summer ahead.

Winter Garden Squeeze

The Winter Garden Squeeze are celebrating their 10th season as a franchise in the Florida Collegiate Summer League.  The FCSL is a six team league in the Orlando area, with franchises in Deland, Leesburg, Orlando, Sanford, Winter Park and Winter Garden.  In 2022, I connected with General Manager Adams Bates at the Johnny Damon Baseball Summer Camp.  Just a couple weeks later, I wrote How the Squeeze Rebooted Baseball in Winter Garden.  It’s the story of their return to the Winter Garden community.

The Squeeze, however, find themselves facing a home field challenge once again.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Squeeze will play their 2022 home games at nearby Olympia High School, placing them outside of Winter Garden.  Nonetheless, they will still be located in the southwestern suburbs of Orlando.

Bates addresses these changes this way, “while we were planning for the season one way, a change of venue only really forces us to make some minor adjustments.  We’re still celebrating our 10th anniversary as a franchise.  We’re still focused on deepening our relationships with the broader community and building partnerships.  We are very focused on celebrating local youth baseball.  Our approach is always “Kids First!”

He went on to say, “we are looking at the Squeeze as a year round fixture here in southwest Orange County.  This is an area that has really grown in the past decade and has a lot to offer.  You’ll see the Squeeze at festivals, parades and other community events year round.  And you’ll also see us focused on spreading baseball knowledge and making the game fun for the next generation.”

In a similar vein, Bates describes the 2023 season as “an opportunity to really engage the players and interns in the process.  We want to do things in such an interactive way that they go back to their campuses and brag about their experience with us.  And we want kids who come to the game to not just be spectators, but feel like they are part of the game.  We want them begging their parents to come back to the next one.”

Royal Oak Leprechauns

The Royal Oak Leprechauns play right in the heart of Detroit’s northern suburbs and the “Lucky Corner” offers a cozy spot in relatively close proximity to Royal Oak’s downtown district.  They’re members of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League.  2022 visit was documented in Summer Baseball at the Lucky Corner.

We caught up with Leprechaun’s General Manager, Mark Sackett, in LOD Podcast, Episode 28:  Baseball at the Lucky Corner with Mark Sackett.  The franchise got a jump start with an investment by local MLB star DJ LeMehieu.  It allowed them to upgrade the facilities with a turf infield, new scoreboard and seating.  The Leprechauns will begin their third season in Royal Oak with plenty of optimism about the summer ahead.

Sackett broke things down this way, “The last two seasons, in Royal Oak, our team has done OK, but suffered through a lot of injuries and a thin roster.  This year is going to be different.  We have expanded our roster and brought in 15 guys from out of state.   We also have another 20 guys that are from the area, who will live at home.  We have brought in two new trainers, one for Pitching, and one for position players.   These trainers are there to keep our players healthy, safe, and prepared for their next college season.  Our previous two seasons, our goals were to ‘get the guys reps.’  This year, 2023, our goal is to win a championship.”

Carolina Disco Turkeys

The Disco Turkeys enter their third season as an independent summer league team.  They call Winston-Salem, North Carolina home.  Back in December 2022, we had Disco Turkeys President and Co-Owner, Greg Sullivan on the LOD Podcast.  Sullivan began his career as a baseball writer.  He credits his media experience for gaining a better understanding of the baseball business.  He’s helped make the Disco Turkeys into a successful year round brand.  See LOD Podcast, Episode 20:  Meet the Carolina Disco Turkeys with Greg Sullivan.

The team has some interesting things in store for the 2023 season.  Sullivan enthusiastically tells us, “We’re doing things differently this year where we’ll be playing games between Truist Stadium, where we’ve played our home games in the past, and Wake Forest University’s Couch Ballpark.  It’s one of the nicest college stadiums in the country that’s located here in Winston-Salem. It’s also a turf facility, so we’re hoping it helps us avoid rain-outs in our short seasons.”

He continues, “We’re also making history this year by playing three games over Fourth of July Weekend at Winston-Salem’s Bowman Gray Stadium. These are the first baseball games ever held in the NASCAR facility (which also hosts Winston-Salem State D2 college football in the fall). We’re going to be playing with a short right field fence there similar to how the Dodgers played with a short outfield fence at the LA Coliseum in the 50s and 60s. We feel like this is going to be a memorable season for our fans and players and also be a season where we continue to grow our name and reach new fans in North Carolina.”

Florida Gulf Coast League

The Florida Gulf Coast League is unique in a number of ways.  First, they play their games in the morning to avoid the late afternoon rainstorms that Florida summers often bring.  Second, they are the only league that offers both summer baseball for college men and softball for women.

The baseball side of the FGCL is a seven team league in the St. Petersburg / Bradenton / Sarasota area.  Teams include the Bradenton Juice, Cortez Anglers, Manatee Impact, St. Pete Saints, Baseball City Nine, St. Pete Heat and Baseball City Bandits.   On the softball side, there are 10 teams.  Those teams include the Myakka City RiverMocs, Bradenton Slice, Sarasota Circus, Siesta Key Phinz, Manatee Squeeze, Anna Maria Aquanauts, SUA Pioneers, Manatee Impact, Manatee Skeeters and Lakewood Ranch Rodeo.

Ryan Moore is the founder of the FGCL and is proud of what he’s done on the baseball side.  He’s in fact a former college ballplayer himself and the father of two players.  But, if you really want to get him fired up, talk about what he’s doing on the women’s softball side. “As the pioneer of summer collegiate softball, the FGCL has provided the foundation for the collegiate athlete to thrive and develop. We are proud of our staff, our community, the college programs that continue to send their players, but most of all, proud of all the athletes that have come past, present and future!” Moore goes on to say, “These are the athletes that make the FGCL what it is and will continue to be and also these are the athletes that will continue to excel in all that they do in softball and after softball.”

This season, Moore’s helped launch a second collegiate softball league in the Nashville area, the Music City Collegiate League.  They will play their first season in 2023 with six teams: Smoky Mountain Rain, Nashvegas Aces, Broadway Honky Tonks, The Peaches, Nashville Fame and Nashville Rodeo.

American Collegiate League

As a result of FCSL Softball’s success, Ryan Moore has gone on to create the American Collegiate League.  It serves as an umbrella organization for summer collegiate leagues. He describes it this way, “The American Collegiate League, a national regional platform for summer collegiate softball and baseball.  It connects regional collegiate play to bring growth and development to competitive play.  We want to create an experience of a lifetime for these collegiate athletes. The goal of the ACL to promote consistency throughout all regions while supporting these athletes to increase their game.  The goals is to have them go back to their respective college programs, ready to compete for championships.”

Check out LOD Podcast, Episode 33:  Pioneering the Softball Market with Ryan Moore.

Macon Bacon

As mentioned, when the Savannah Bananas played in the Coastal Plain League, their primary rival was the Macon Bacon.  The CPL extends across the states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.  They include other fun and unique team names like the Florence Flamingos, Tri-City Chili Peppers and Boone Bigfoots.

Like the Bananas, the Bacon play in an historic (94 year old) ballpark, Luther Williams Field.  The ballpark has received some improvements in the off-season to accommodate the Bacon’s growing crowds.  Also, like the Bananas, they have made a catchy nickname and logo utilizing food items.  Beyond that, however, the Bacon remain a committed collegiate summer baseball team.

LOD caught up with team President, Brandon Raphael.  He elaborated on the 2023 season this way, “We pride ourselves on our family, friendly entertainment and this season will continue to build on our foundation: Our Fans.  While we have our perennial theme nights like Star Wars, Throwback and multiple fireworks shows, we’re excited to launch some new ones as well.  Fans will be able to get sizzlin’ with Country Night, Hawaiian Night and Christmas in July.  And you never know what our seven foot mascot Kevin (Bacon) is up to.”

Yes, the Bacon really do have a seven foot mascot named Kevin, who is ready to provide plenty of summer fun starting June 2.  We’re looking forward to having Brandon Raphael on the LOD Podcast soon to share the whole Macon Bacon story.

Summer Fun Ahead

Whether you’re in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia or anywhere in America, you don’t have to go far to find a local ballpark hosting summer collegiate baseball.  At Legends on Deck, we look forward to covering these teams (and leagues) throughout the 2023 season.  We invite you, our readers and listeners, to be a part of the process as well.  Go ahead and join the Community of Summer Collegiate Baseball on Facebook and share your ballpark adventures this summer.

Go out and support your local college players, coaches and franchises and be an active participant in this pastime we all love!

 

 

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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