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A Brief History of South Florida Baseball

From the earliest days of the city of Miami, baseball has been a South Florida staple. Whether as the home to numerous Minor League franchises, the training site for various Major League clubs or the home of some of the finest college and high school programs in the nation, baseball and South Florida need no introduction.

Records show that Abner Doubleday, who legend credits as having invented the game of baseball, was stationed at a military base in South Florida late in his career. Although club teams were taking to makeshift diamonds in the area before the turn of the century, the first official Minor League entry appeared in 1912 when the Miami Magicians entered the Class D East Florida State League and competed until the United States entered World War I. After the war, several variations of Minor League clubs appeared, one of which was the Miami Tourists.

Abner Doubleday, legendary founder of the game of baseball.

On the eve of World War II, teams in the Florida East Coast League included the Miami Wahoos, the Miami Beach Flamingos, the Fort Lauderdale Tarpons and the West Palm Beach Indians. The league suspended operations in 1943 until the end of the war.

After the war, the need for a larger stadium became apparent. Jose Manuel Aleman, a former Minister of Education in Cuba, undertook the project. Construction began in late 1948 and Miami Stadium was opened on August 31, 1949. At the time, the 9,000-seat stadium was hailed as one of the finest and most beautiful in baseball.

By 1952, the Florida International League had risen to Class B status and included the Miami Sun Sox (managed by Pepper Martin), the Miami Beach Flamingos, the Fort Lauderdale Lions (who wore shorts during the 1953 season) and the West Palm Beach Indians.

The Marlins nickname made its first appearance in 1956 when the Triple-A franchise from Syracuse, New York moved south and into Miami Stadium. The legendary promoter Bill Veeck was brought in to run the team and one of his first acts was to sign 50(ish) hurler Satchel Paige. Paige's Marlins debut was one to remember, as Veeck arranged for a helicopter to deliver him to the mound on Opening Night.

Paige played three seasons with the Marlins, and was the starting pitcher on August 7, 1956 when baseball moved to the Orange Bowl for the first time. Thanks in part to pre-game festivities that included Cab Calloway and Merv Griffin, a crowd of 57,713 filled the stadium for a 6-2 victory by Paige and the Marlins over the Columbus Jets. The game raised over $30,000 for charity, but did little to build a long-term base of fans. Plagued by poor attendance and other financial problems, the Triple-A franchise moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico after the 1960 season.

Bill Veeck, who first brought Satchel Paige to the Major Leagues with the Indians in 1948, reunited with the future Hall of Famer down in Florida.

After the Marlins departure, South Florida's professional baseball connection has been either through hosting various Major League Spring Training sites or through Class A Florida State League entries, including several different nicknames (Marlins, Orioles and Miracle).

In 1979, Triple-A baseball made a brief return to South Florida with the Miami Amigos of the Inter-American League. The league lasted only until mid-July before financial problems brought it down. From that moment until April 5, 1993, the only professional baseball above the Class A level in South Florida was played during the spring.

Since the days of Babe Ruth, Major League clubs have sought refuge in the warm Florida climate while preparing for the upcoming season. At one time or another, South Florida has been the spring home of the Giants, Reds, Browns, Athletics, Yankees, Braves and Pirates and is currently the site for the Cardinals, Mets, Expos and Orioles.

But while the professional game was mostly a springtime guest, the amateur programs became nationally prominent. At the University of Miami, Hurricanes manager Ron Fraser built, over 30 years, what many consider the model collegiate program. Not only did the team prosper on the field, becoming a regular participant in the College World Series and winning two national championships, but Fraser proved that a collegiate program could also be successful at the gate. Armed with a never-ending series of promotions, Miami has packed in the fans at home and has become the envy of many Minor League teams in the process.

At the same time, various high school and junior college programs in the state have churned out a never-ending stream of blue chip prospects and Major Leaguers, the result of a year-round affinity for playing the game.

Native son Mike Lowell now suits up for his hometown Marlins.

South Florida's interest in baseball was further solidified by the influx of Cubans since the late 1950's. In the mid-1950's, Havana was host to a legendary Triple-A entry, the Sugar Kings. Starting with Minnie Minoso, a host of Cuban players such as Cookie Rojas, Bert Campaneris, Luis Tiant and Tony Perez made their way to the Major Leagues and opened baseball's collective eyes to the vast wealth of talent available in the Caribbean.

That tradition continues today with the play of such Cuban-American products as Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco, who made his professional debut with the Class A Florida Marlins in 1982. Other Major Leaguers who wore a Minor League Marlins uniform include Dennis Martinez, Eddie Murray and former Marlins catcher Benito Santiago. With the 1997 arrival of Alex Fernandez to the Marlins, the vastness of this area's baseball is seen with a person who played high school, collegiate and now Major League Baseball in South Florida. The same can now be said of Marlins infielder Mike Lowell, a hometown product playing for the local Major League team.

Since the Florida Marlins came to the area in 1993, Major League Baseball no longer heads north for the summer. Now, the baseball fans of South Florida can experience first hand what they have long coveted, a big league team of their own.