Today’s guest post is courtesy of Michael Lortz, last seen on this blog via his stint as Dunedin Blue Jays Designated Eater. Michael is a consultant and freelance writer from Tampa. He currently writes for TampaBayBaseballMarket.com and has written for various other baseball sites. He is a big fan of Hugh Manatee.
In 1972, there were only 1267 manatees in Florida. Today, there are over 6300. Starting in 2017, however, there will be approximately 30 fewer manatees in Brevard County.
After 22 years at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, the Brevard County Manatees are moving west to Kissimmee to be rebranded as the Central Florida “Somethings”. Somethings isn’t really their name, but there is a fan vote to determine between a Magic/Disney-related name or a rodeo-cowboy related name. Either way, they won’t be the Manatees anymore.
The history of the Florida State League is littered with teams that no longer exist, from the Palatka Azaleas to the Baseball City Royals to the DeLand Sun Caps. The league’s most recent move was after the 2009 season, when the Sarasota Reds became the Bradenton Marauders. Prior to 2009, teams moved from such historic locations as Al Lang Field in St Petersburg and Dodgertown in Vero Beach. And just a few exits north of the Manatees’ current home is the Cocoa Expo, a ghost stadium that once hosted Spring Training for the Houston Astros, who coincidentally also moved to Kissimmee before vacating it for a new shiny home in West Palm Beach.
I went to my first Brevard County Manatees game during their inaugural 1994 season. They were the new kids on the block, with the right stuff for the home of the space shuttle. Initially a Marlins affiliate and, later, a Brewers farm team, they frequently featured young talent on the way to the Majors. Players such as Edgar Renteria and Josh Beckett, Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo called Space Coast Stadium home.
Although I no longer live in Brevard County, I’ve made sure to go to at least one game every year. I’ve gone by myself, with my Dad, and, most recently, with my nephew. Even though he is not the biggest baseball fan, going to a game every year with him has become our thing. He eats hot dogs and runs around; I half-watch a game and get to spend time with him. And somehow, someway, he always ends up going home with a game-used baseball.
Admittedly, the Manatees are not moving far – Kissimmee is only about an hour from Viera – but the fact that my hometown no longer has a team hurts. Space Coast Stadium will still be used for tournaments and regional games, but that’s not the same. The Space Coast will no longer be home to Minor League Baseball.
My family on my Dad’s side is from Brooklyn, New York. In the late 1950s, when my Dad was a kid, the city went through a horrible time when the Yankees were the only game in town. Citing better financial opportunity, the Dodgers and Giants broke the hearts of millions of fans and relocated to the West Coast.
Today, I live in the Tampa Bay area. Every year, Rays fans hear rumors that the team will eventually leave the area for a new stadium in a new city. I write about the Rays’ fan base on various websites and have estimated there are nearly a million Rays fans in Florida. There would be a lot of sad people if the Rays moved.
If I’m emotional thinking about the Manatees, how will I deal with the relocation of the Rays?
Ever since there has been baseball, teams have moved to greener or more profitable pastures. Baseball is a business and business owners want to position their business where it will make the most profit. Business school taught me that. My family experienced this harsh reality in Brooklyn and now I have to realize it in Brevard County.
While I understand, how do I tell my 8-year old nephew that the Manatees are gone? How do I tell him the that team on his first baseball hat is no longer in existence? How do I tell him “Let’s Go Manatees” is no longer a chant that means anything to anyone but us?
Although the Brevard County Manatees have gone extinct, they will live on in the great times and great memories of the last 22 years. As Bart Giamatti once wrote, baseball is “designed to break your heart.”
Thanks, Mike, for your insight. Regularly-scheduled Ben’s Biz Blog programming will resume tomorrow. In the meantime, my posts covering my 2015 visit to Brevard County can be read HERE.
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