The temporary move comes as the school district replaces wooden light poles at high schools around the county.
If you saw the Facebook post shared by the Winter Garden Squeeze on Tuesday, May 14, you may have one question: Why?
In the post, the Florida Collegiate Summer League team announced it would be playing the 2019 season at Lake Minneola High School, instead of at its usual home at West Orange High.
The reasoning, said Squeeze General Manager Adam Bates, had to do with lighting at the Warriors’ baseball field.
“It’s very simple: Orange County Public Schools is taking all of the wooden light poles down at every baseball and softball field, and they’re doing it because they were deemed unsafe,” Bates said. “We got about a five-week notice — we were told in late April that this was going to happen, and we had to scramble and find a place to play pretty quick.”
Going into the Squeeze’s sixth season, the Winter Garden-based team had played all five years at West Orange High, so the late change has been a bit frustrating for those who work in the organization.
Bates said he had been in contact with OCPS about when the light replacement will happen, which possibly could be in June or July. The decision to remove the lights is one with which he doesn’t agree, but Bates hopes it will be done sooner than later.
Although the timing of the new replacement lights is unfortunate, luckily for Bates and the Squeeze, Lake Minneola High was open to accommodating the team temporarily.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but Kerry Whetro — the head coach at Lake Minneola — is a really good man, and we had a team in Clermont (the Mavericks) that actually won it back in the day,” Bates said. “But (maybe) we can just turn this into an opportunity.”
Although the team won’t be playing in Winter Garden this season, Bates stressed the organization is 100% dedicated to staying in the city and continuing to grow into something that can positively impact the community.
Eventually, the dream for Bates is to move from West Orange High to a baseball field closer to the heart of the city.
“My ultimate goal, and we’ve always talked about it, but hopefully this might spearhead being able to develop something in downtown Winter Garden from a baseball-field standpoint,” Bates said. “We could bring economic impact to the city of Winter Garden. There’s some serious opportunity there.
“And the thing is, if we ever get downtown, we will be the No. 1 team in the league — hands down, no questions asked,” he said. “Because nobody in Central Florida has the potential to have a Plant Street behind a baseball stadium.”
HOST FAMILIES NEEDED
Along with the change of scenery, there is one other thing that has to be taken care before the new season’s quickly approaching June 2 arrival: finding more host families.
Each year, the Squeeze take in collegiate students from all over the Southeast — with this year’s group seeing players coming from as far west as Texas — which means they need places to stay for the summer.
Unfortunately this year has seen usual host families drop out, and it’s an issue.
“We’re in need big time,” Bates said. “We lost some families just from their family situations. One family that usually takes four players couldn’t this year because of family dynamics, and some other people (couldn’t) because of work and vacations.
“I’m going to be really, really working these next 10 days on trying to find about 10 host families,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but I wouldn’t say us moving to Minneola (will be an issue). … In fact it might give us a chance to find some people out there who might want to host.”