NORTH PORT — On the last day of the Hurricane Dorian-shortened 2019 Florida State League season the Florida Fire Frogs and the Charlotte Stone Crabs split a double header at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.
Now, it appears the two teams will be neighbors for the 2020 season, as the Fire Frogs are seemingly headed to the Atlanta Braves’ new stadium at Cool Today Park at West Villages in North Port. The Fire Frogs, who previously played at Osceola County Stadium, have been without a home since the end of last season.
Baseball America was the first to report, on its website, that “Minor League Baseball has approved the Fire Frogs to play at the Braves new North Port facility for the 2020 season.”
The Stone Crabs own the minor league territorial rights to the area and Stone Crabs general manager Jeff Cook confirmed to The Sun that a deal has been struck, stating that the two organizations had “been in discussions for the past couple of months.”
“It’s temporary,” Cook said on Thursday afternoon. “We signed off on an extension for one year only. It’s not ideal, but it's for the betterment of the league. It’s helping out another team.”
Atlanta Braves officials declined to confirm the move on Thursday, according to Baseball Communications manager Jared Burleyson.
It is not surprising that the Fire Frogs were eager to leave Kissimmee. They ranked next to last in the Florida State League in attendance, totaling 19,615 fans or an average of 327 per game. In comparison, the Stone Crabs drew 91,349 fans in 2019. The team has been in search of a home since exiting their stadium deal in Osceola County after last season.
“The city is excited to welcome the Fire Frogs, the Atlanta Braves minor league team, to North Port,” said North Port City Manager Pete Lear. “This is another step forward as a result of the stadium and training facility being completed. This is great news for the Braves and for our community.”
The move would put a baseball team in the stadium all summer — where there is already a fully functional sports bar and restaurant, the Tomahawk Tiki Bar — at least for 2020.
Stone acknowledged that the Fire Frogs could end up staying beyond this season.
“It’s certainly possible,” he said. “They’ll need a home after this year, but we’ve only agreed to one year at this point.”
However, the Fire Frogs might not need a home in 2021. A report recently published by the New York Times indicates that Major League Baseball plans to "sever the affiliation of 42 minor league baseball teams in the lower level of the minors," including the Fire Frogs.
While Cook said that the two teams have yet to discuss any cross-promotional possibilities, he also admitted that the Stone Crabs new neighbors could cut into their attendance.
“I don’t know at what level we’ll see the effect,” he said. “We get a large portion of our fans from the North Port area.”
But those are worries for another day. On Thursday afternoon, the news of another minor league team coming to the area was still creating a buzz.
“This is just icing on the cake for the city,” North Port’s Economic Development manager Mel Thomas said. “A full-time team. Wow, I need to find a team T-shirt.”
Contributing: Chris Porter, Englewood/North Port Sun Editor