Familiarity on the fly a must for Winter Garden Squeeze
With limited practice, becoming a team, creating chemistry and vying for a Florida League Championship is somewhat of a trial-by-fire process for the Squeeze.
| 6:10 p.m. June 5, 2017
WINTER GARDEN They show up on a Tuesday.
By Friday, they’re taking the field as the Winter Garden Squeeze.
Such is the nature of summer league baseball, in which college baseball players from around the country come together for two months to hone their skills, get in some extra repetitions and show off for professional scouts.
For someone such as West Orange alum Ryan Welsh, a pitcher for the Squeeze and rising junior at Florida Southern, it recalls the good ol’ days of travel baseball circuits in high school.
“It definitely kind of feels like travel ball, when there was kind of like people coming in and coming out all the time,” Ryan Welsh said ahead of the Squeeze’s opener June 2, a 5-2 loss to Leesburg.
This need to foster familiarity on the fly is a shared predicament and one that Ryan’s father — Squeeze head coach Jay Welsh — said is offset by the abilities of the players.
“Thank God they’re good,” Jay Welsh said. “The talent across the board in this league is so good that you can do that. You can have that luxury where you don’t need a whole lot of practice time.”
Beyond the shared nature of the circumstance, though, is a slight advantage for the Squeeze: the pre-existing familiarity of the players on the roster. The Winter Garden franchise has been around for four seasons. In the first two years, the Squeeze fielded a roster that had a decidedly Southwestern flavor, thanks to then-coach Ruben Felix’s connection in states such as Texas.
The past two seasons, though, have seen a shift, with General Manager Adam Bates and Welsh putting an emphasis on getting local players who went to schools such as West Orange — where the team plays its home games — to come home for their summer ball and play for the hometown team.
As a result, the Squeeze have just one player staying with a host family this summer.
“I think we definitely have an advantage over other teams (because) we are the most familiar with each other.”
— Ryan Welsh
“A lot of guys we have are from around Orlando — it’s pretty nice,” Ryan Welsh said. “I think we definitely have an advantage over other teams (because) we are the most familiar with each other.”
Of Winter Garden’s 27 players, nine went to high school at a school covered by either the West Orange Times & Observer or the Windermere Observer. Six more players went to school somewhere in the Greater Orlando area, and a whopping 15 players on the team compete for in-state colleges across all levels of collegiate play from junior college to Division I programs — another wrinkle the elder Welsh likes to use to his advantage.
“The other thing that I always like to do, and it helps me as a coach, is I say, ‘Hey, guys, you all are from great college programs — if we can do something better, share with me,’” Jay Welsh said.
For Welsh, an additional challenge is balancing development and playing time with trying to win some ballgames. There are no illusions as to why athletes play summer ball: It is to get better as individuals. Every player has something to prove, including some who may have redshirted at their respective schools this spring or did not play much. Summer ball can be a proving ground to make a case for playing time when they return to their school.
Nevertheless, baseball — and, really, any sport — is more fun when you play to win.
“I look at the first six weeks of the season as trying to get everybody what they need to get while staying in the race — not being too far away (from first place),” Jay Welsh said. “Then, you get a better idea of what these kids can do, and from July 15 on you’re playing your best kids.”