Opening Night on Thursday, June 2 marks the start of the race to the “Trop”, where each of the six Florida League teams will battle their way through a 45-game schedule in hopes of ending the summer at Tropicana Field for the 2011 Florida League Championship. The Sanford River Rats will be playing the defending Florida League champion Winter Park Diamond Dawgs at Sanford Memorial Stadium to kickoff the 2011 season. Thursday at the ballpark will be filled with much more than just baseball. Opening Night will also be City of Sanford Employee Appreciation Night featuring Mayor Jeff Triplett who will throw out the first pitch of the season. Hurry to the ballpark because Sanford Ale House is providing a pre-game tailgate meal at the stadium. All fans can purchase a combo of fries, water, Captain Jack’s dessert, and their choice of a chicken sandwich, cheeseburger, or zingers for only $10. The ten-dollar purchase also includes admission into the game.
The first 300 fans will receive a limited edition souvenir cup commemorating the 60th anniversary of Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium. Fans who receive a cup can get $1 refills on soft drinks throughout the summer. For the 21 and up crowd, you can also enjoy the game with the help of $1 beers. This and every Thursday home game at Sanford will be Thirsty Thursday at the ballpark. Game time is slated for 7 pm. Gates will open at 5:30.
Along with the Sanford River Rats and Winter Park Diamond Dawgs, the DeLand Suns and Leesburg Lightning return for their 4th and 5th years in the league respectively. The former Orlando Mavericks are now known as the Orlando Freedom. The sixth team and new addition in the league this year will be the Winter Haven Loggerheads.
The Florida League looks to showcase another outstanding crop of collegiate players and future Major League prospects. Over 130 former players have been drafted out of the Florida League, including 26 Florida League players taken in last year’s Major League Draft. The Florida League looks to send several more players into Major League baseball after the draft on June 6.
FLORIDA LEAGUE 6 IN 6
Beginning May 27th, college baseball fans have a chance to get a glimpse of what to expect from the 6 teams across the Florida League. Starting with the Orlando Freedom and finishing in Winter Park to preview the defending Florida League Champion Diamond Dawgs, Florida League 6 in 6 will contain each team’s season preview including coach and player bios, highlights of which players will likely end up in the 2011 All-Star Game, and much more! From players to stadiums, you can learn about all 6 teams in only 6 days with the Florida League 6 in 6.
FORMER FLORIDA LEAGUERS IMPACTING MLB
Although the Florida League has had 137 former players drafted into Major League Baseball, there are two stars that are shining a little bit brighter than the rest. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Mike McClendon have a few huge similarities. Lucroy, drafted in the 3rd round of the 2007 Amateur Draft, and McClendon, drafted in the 10th round of the 2006 Amateur Draft, both played two seasons in the Florida League. Less than six years after their presences in the Florida League, McClendon and Lucroy not only find themselves on a big league roster, but both of the former Florida Leaguers play for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Jonathan Lucroy made his big league debut on May 21, 2010 where he knocked his first Major League hit in his first at bat against the Minnesota Twins. One year later, Lucroy is the starting catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewer backstop is hitting .327 with 6 doubles, 5 homeruns, and 22 RBIs in 31 games this year. ESPN ranks Lucroy the 7th best fantasy catcher in the MLB.
Mike McClendon also made his big league debut with the Brewers in 2010. The former Diamond Dawg tossed one scoreless inning against the Phillies on April 19 before being called back down to the minors. McClendon is currently on a much longer stint in the big leagues this season. The right-handed reliever finished out a 14-inning Brewer victory on May 20 against the Rockies to earn the first big league win of his career. Although Lucroy did not catch McClendon’s first win, the former Florida League catcher was behind the plate for McClendon’s second victory last night against the Washington Nationals. McClendon through two shutout innings to up his record to 2-0 and drop his ERA to 3.38. Both former Florida Leaguers are clearly making their impacts on the big league club.
THE CENTRAL FLORIDA BREWERS
The state of Florida has always been known as a breeding ground for talented baseball players. The entire state produces future Major League Baseball players year after year, but for some reason, the Milwaukee Brewers seem to be attracted to one specific portion of the state of Florida. The Milwaukee Brewers are sometimes known by a different name: the Central Florida Brewers. Jonathan Lucroy, Mike McClendon, Rickie Weeks, Zach Greinke, and Prince Fielder are all central Florida natives. Jonathan Lucroy, the 24-year-old former Florida League All-Star, has earned the starting spot behind the plate in his first full season with the Brewers. Mike McClendon went to Bishop Moore High School in Orlando and picked up his first big league win earlier this month for Milwaukee. Brewers starting second baseman Rickie Weeks is a product of baseball power Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Weeks is hitting .288 on the year for the Brew Crew. Power hitting first baseman Prince Fielder played his high school baseball at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Florida. The son of Hall of Famer Cecil Fielder blasted 50 homeruns in 2007 and has compiled over 200 long balls in his first 7 seasons with Milwaukee. Although Zach Greinke has been slowed at the start of the 2011 season due to injury, the former Apopka High School standout has compiled an impressive resume over his young career including the 2009 Cy Young Award.
It is tough to say the Brewers would be more than 3 games out of first place without the 5 players previously mentioned, but stats do not lie. Without the central Florida products Milwaukee would be missing a former Cy Young award winner, a premiere young arm, 143 hits, 30 doubles, 24 homeruns, and 75 RBI (combined stats of Weeks, Fielder, Lucroy).
FORMER MAVERICK AND LIGHTNING PLAYERS HONORED
Former Orlando Maverick, DJ Hicks (UCF) is a national finalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, an award given to the top baseball player in NCAA Division I, and former Leesburg Lightning player Austin Chubb (Florida Southern) had an outstanding season earning him 1st team all-conference honors.
DJ Hicks is one of only 36 players across the country who are finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy. The award will be presented on June 21st during the 2011 College World Series. The sophomore for UCF led the team with a .350 average and 57 RBI. Hicks also added 11 doubles, 13 homeruns, and a .436 on-base percentage to his season stats. The Knights’ designated hitter’s season was sparked by a week where Hicks went 10 for 21 with 3 homeruns, 7 runs scored, a .542 on-base percentage, and a slugging percentage of 1.000. Hicks was awarded the Pro-Line Athletic National Hitter of the Week for his performance.
Florida Southern’s Junior DH, Austin Chubb, also had a phenominal year. Chubb swatted 5 homeruns and 26 RBI for his team including a conference batting average of .373 and slugging percentage of .680. Chubb is one of three Moccasins to be selected to All-Sunshine State Conference 1st team.