Sports

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 hosts 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 hockey team, made their permanent home here, and won the Kelly Cup in 2012. The Florida Tarpon, football team, started in 2012 and are the newest edition to Germain Arena.

Baseball has a long and grand tradition in Lee County. The area’s first baseball team organized in 1896, 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 renovated Century Link Sports Complex once known as the Lee County Sports Company Hammond Stadium, serves as spring training headquarters for the AL Central Division Champion Minnesota Twins. This new sports complex serves as the summer home for the Fort Myers Miracle, the class “A” team associated with the twins.

The original, 1991 stadium was named for William “Bill” Hammond, the assistant county administrator who spearheaded the project from inception. The newly renovated stadium was completed in February 2015. This state of the art complex now seats 9,300 viewers, four major league practice fields, an agility field, a new 360 degree boardwalk, and a concourse.

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.

JetBlue Park, is the spring training home of the 2013 World Series Champions Boston Red Sox. This 10,823-seat stadium, built in 2012, is a field replicated to look like Fenway Park. JetBlue Park at Fenway South captures elements of Southwest Florida, including seashells within its brick foundation and the architecture of the white roof, mimicking cypress trees in the distance. Environmentally-sustainable features are incorporated throughout the facility and Complex. The field provides six practice fields, other adjoining facilities that house both the Major and Minor League operations, and a rehabilitation center.

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.

To find out more about JetBlue Park and the Boston Red Sox, you can contact the park at (239) 226-4783 or visit the stadium at 11500 Fenway South Drive, Fort Myers, FL 33913.

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, Estero, FL 33928. For a schedule of events call (239) 948-7825.

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. The athletic program at FGCU began in 2000 with men and women’s golf and tennis. In 2002, the men and women’s basketball programs, as well as softball, baseball, and men 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 junior Olympic size pool. For more info about games and time at FGCU visit their website: http://www.fgcuathletics.com/

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel in southwest Florida includes: Sanibel Island & Captiva Island, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande & Outer islands, North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres.

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