Major and minor league baseball, pro hockey and skating entertain southwest Florida visitors year-round

Southwest Florida sports spectating is no longer limited to spring and summer amateur baseball. The Fort Myers/Sanibel area now touts two of the 18 major league teams in the Florida Grapefruit League and a Florida State League team.

However, baseball isn’t the only hit in southwest Florida. Ice hockey has taken residents and vacationers by storm. In 1998, the Florida Everblades made their permanent home here, and won their first ECHL Eastern Conference Championship in 2004. The Florida Firecats arena football team soon followed, and won the AF2 Championship in 2004. And finally, professional basketball will once again call Germain Arena home, as the NBDL’s Florida Flame make their premiere in Fall 2004.

Baseball has a long and grand tradition in Lee County. The area’s first baseball team organized in1896, playing its first game on July 4 the following year. Since then, baseball has maintained a major presence in the community. In 1925, the Philadelphia Athletics became the first major league club to train in Fort Myers. The team was managed by Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack, grandfather of Lee County’s former U.S. senator by the same name. The Athletics played for 12 years at Terry Park, named for Tootie McGregor Terry, who donated the land, then known as the Fort Myers Fairgrounds, in 1906. From 1939 to 1940, the Cleveland Indians made Fort Myers their spring training headquarters.

Fourteen years later, in 1955, the Pittsburgh Pirates arrived, welcomed by a renovated Terry Park stadium. The Kansas City Royals came in 1968 and stayed for 20 years. Each team went on to win the World Series!

The Lee County Sports Complex, anchored by the William H. Hammond Stadium in south Fort Myers, serves as spring training headquarters for the AL Central Division Champion Minnesota Twins, and summer home for the Fort Myers Miracle, the Class "A" team affiliated with the Twins. This state-of-the-art 7,500-seat stadium opened in 1991 and is named for William "Bill" Hammond, the assistant county administrator who spearheaded the project from inception.

Hammond Stadium is part of the 80-acre Lee County Sports Complex, which includes four regulation major league practice fields, two half-fields, four softball practice fields, 10 indoor batting cages (four in the main stadium) and 30 practice pitching areas with mounds. The stadium is handicapped accessible and located at 14100 Six Mile Cypress, south of Daniels Parkway, in Fort Myers, FL 33912. For information, call (239) 768-4210.

The Minnesota Twins are the fifth team in more than 65 years to train in Lee County. In 1988 Lee County began pursuing the team, which commenced their spring training here in 1991. It was the first time the entire Twins organization had operated from the same place. Immediately on the heels of this auspicious spring training, the Twins went on to become World Champions. Lee County recently inked a deal with the Twins that will keep them in Fort Myers for Spring Training through 2020. For information on the Twins, call (239) 768-4210.

The Class "A" Fort Myers Miracle became affiliated with the Minnesota Twins in 1993, following its first season in Southwest Florida. Actor Bill Murray and singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett, part owners of the Miracle Baseball club, have been seen incognito during the season. For information and tickets, call (239) 768-4210.

City of Palms Park, in downtown Fort Myers, is the spring training home of the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox. This 6,990-seat stadium, built in 1992, includes a stadium field, a practice field, five minor league fields, 12 indoor hitting tunnels, expansive clubhouses and dugouts as well as conditioning, hydrotherapy, training and locker rooms.

"The architectural style of City of Palms Park is reminiscent of traditional stadiums like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park," said Jim Humphrey, mayor of Fort Myers. "The stadium was designed with baseball fans in mind. It allows a closeness and an access to the players that only occurs at spring training camps."

In 1993, the Boston Red Sox left Winter Haven, Florida, and headed to Fort Myers to begin their spring training. The Red Sox and Lee County struck an agreement in 2004 to extend the club’s stay in Fort Myers through 2019. Upon winning the 2004 World Series, the Red Sox became the fifth Major League team to win the Series after training in Lee County.

With the City of Fort Myers known as the City of Palms, it’s fitting that swaying palm trees surround the stadium at 2201 Edison Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905. For Red Sox information, call (239) 334-4700.

Recently, ice hockey has found a new market of excited fans in Lee County. In 1998, the ECHL’s Florida Everblades played their inaugural season in Germain Arena, a major presence on 30 acres in south Lee County just down the road from Florida Gulf Coast University. The Florida Everblades belong to the ECHL national hockey league and compete with 30 franchises from across the country. Since the team’s inception, fans have filled an average 90 percent of game seats. Games run October through April. Catch a game at 11000 Everblades Pkwy. in Estero, FL 33928. For a schedule of events call (239) 948-7825.

Also calling Germain Arena home are the Florida Firecats (AF2 arena football), winners of the 2004 AF2 Championship. Germain Arena also welcomes back professional basketball, as the NBA development league’s (NBDL) Florida Flame take the court in 2004. For more information on the Florida Firecats, call (239) 390-2287.

In addition to the main arena at Germain, the complex features two other NHL regulation-sized ice rinks, a year-round restaurant with 27 televisions, a lounge, a private club and luxury suites. Germain Arena’s recreational rinks provide children and adults practice time for ice hockey and figure skating as well as classes in both sports.

Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is Florida’s 10th four-year university, and will be competing as a NCAA Division II member institution in Fall 2004. The athletic program at FGCU began in 2000 with men’s and women’s golf and tennis. In 2002, the men’s and women’s basketball programs, as well as softball, baseball, and men’s and women’s cross country made their debut. Home of the FGCU Eagles, Alico Arena is a 4,500 seat multi-purpose facility that can host sports such as basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, martial arts, and much more. Other sports facilities include baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, and soccer fields. FGCU’s newest facility is the Lee County Aquatics Center, the region’s only Olympic size pool.

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