The Winter Garden Squeeze have surpassed the midway point of the franchise’s inaugural season as a member of the Florida Collegiate Summer League.
With the FCSL’s annual All-Star Game looming and just 20 games left until the playoffs begin on July 29, the Squeeze (13-9) find themselves a game and a half behind one of the league’s powerhouses (Sanford) in first place and knotted up with last season’s champion in second (Winter Park).
In short, Winter Garden is pretty much right on track.
“I told them at the beginning of the year that my goal as a manager was to put a good product out there and win a championship,” Squeeze head coach Ruben Felix said. “I think that now that they know each other, too, they root a little bit more for each other.”
The premise for the FCSL, and other leagues like it around the country, is rooted in self interest; giving players an opportunity to show what they can do to both pro scouts and their own collegiate programs back home.
But as players for the Winter Garden franchise continue to spend more time with one another, the sense of team has grown notably.
“We definitely have great team camaraderie, team chemistry is huge on the team,” Chris Fee (St. Andrews) said. “We also like to compete against each other.”
The Squeeze also like to compete against the league’s best. Winter Garden is making a case as one of the FCSL’s best so far this season as they continue to chase first place.
“This is a team that’s definitely going to make it to the playoffs and compete to win the league,” Danny Portales (University of South Florida) said.
Already, the 2014 season has seen Winter Garden handle some good times and some adversity. The Squeeze raced out to a 7-2 start and first place but a midweek series against league-leading Sanford in the third week of play set them back a bit, dropping all three games to the River Rats (14-7).
That series sweep at the hands of Sanford, paired with a loss to Winter Park, created a four-game skid that Winter Garden has since rebounded from. The Squeeze have gone 7-3 since that point, displaying a knack for resiliency.
“For the most part we preach ‘just peck away,’” Felix said. “Sometimes you’re not going to win all those close games but we’ve put the ball in play and we’ll move runners around. …
“We’re going to keep being aggressive.”
In spite of all the positive things that have gone on so far this season for Winter Garden, the Squeeze do have one slightly discouraging trend: struggles at home games at West Orange High School.
Winter Garden is 5-7 at home so far this season and, while not terrible, it doesn’t align with the Squeeze’s strong road record of 8-2. Bolstered by a pair of wins at home in a four-game series against Leesburg this past weekend, the home record has improved and Winter Garden players don’t seem to be looking into it much.
“It’s just one of those coincidences,” Fee said.
Who’s “Crush-ing” it?
In honor of Crush, the mascot for the Winter Garden Squeeze, each week we will highlight a pitcher and a batter who “Crush-ed” it for the team during the previous week of play.
At the plate, Damon Haecker (Auburn) piled up 12 hits, scored 8 runs, drove in 6 RBIs — and hit his first home run of the season, a solo shot against Leesburg on Friday.
On the mound, Joey Starling (Stanford) allowed just one run over 5.1 innings for the Squeeze in a pivotal 2-1 win over the Lightning, though he did not receive the decision.
FCSL All-Star Game set for Tuesday
The annual Florida Collegiate Summer League All-Star Game is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium.
The two teams will represent the league’s North (DeLand, Sanford and Leesburg) and South (Winter Garden, Winter Park, College Park) clubs and an MVP will be named after its conclusion.