WINTER GARDEN When the Florida Collegiate Summer League originally was conceived, one of the guiding principles was this idea: to provide a place for local baseball players who had gone off to college to come home, improve their game and gain exposure in front of pro scouts along the way.
To be sure, in each of the Winter Garden Squeeze’s first two seasons, there has been a local presence.
Former Squeeze players such as Andrew Mogg and Brandon Murray played their high-school ball on the same field that the FCSL’s Winter Garden franchise utilizes as its home field: West Orange High’s Heller Bros. Ballpark. Brothers Damon and Chase Haecker, who starred at the prep level for Lake Brantley, didn’t have to travel far, either.
But there was also a heavy presence of players from schools in the southwestern United States, in part because of former manager Reuben Felix’s ties to that area.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, and local families from West Orange stepped up to host ballplayers who needed a place to stay during the summer.
This season, though, there is a new coach — Jay Welsh — and a new identity to the team: local first.
And after a rough go of it in 2015, it may just provide the right dynamic for victory in 2016.
Glance at the roster for this year’s team. If you’re familiar with high-school baseball in Central Florida, many of the names and faces will sound familiar — actually, nearly all of them.
According to General Manager Adam Bates, just one of the team’s 28 players had need of a host family — the rest all have direct ties to Central Florida and a place to stay.
It’s not only a positive for the players, who will get to sleep in their own beds, either. The local presence on the roster makes the Squeeze a much easier sell to boost attendance. Local players are bound to have built-in networks of families and friends who will be able to attend games. Furthermore, for the elusive casual fan, it’s an easier sell to go to the ballpark to support local kids than it is to support kids from, say, Texas.
After going 8-28 a season ago, Bates and Welsh have been working hard to get the franchise back on track and position the Squeeze’s third season in the FCSL to be the team’s best to date.
“It’s just very exciting to be back in Winter Garden for a third season,” Bates said. “The hometown team has a hometown feel now — that’s what we really worked on since the end of last season.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].