A new rivalry may have been created in the Florida Collegiate Summer League.
The league announced recently that it has awarded a franchise to the city of Winter Garden in west Orange County and will become the closest FCSL team to the loop’s only Lake County team, the Leesburg Lightning.
The new team replaces the Orlando Monarchs, which played for the previous two seasons at Tinker Field. That facility is being demolished to accommodate major renovations being made at the Florida Citrus Bowl, which sits behind Tinker Field’s right-field fence.
City officials have planned to replace Tinker Field, which was first constructed in 1913, with a new facility. Among the baseball greats who have played at the historic ballpark include Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew.
League officials said the Winter Garden team, which has not been given a nickname or a mascot, will play its home games at Winter Garden West Orange High School. Residents in the city will help decide on a nickname and a mascot, according to FCSL President Rob Sitz.
“The arrival of a team in Winter Garden helps us accomplish a goal we’ve had for quite some time,” Sitz said. “The Winter Garden area has a very deeply rooted baseball community and we are looking forward to working with them to make this a very successful franchise. Between now and opening day, the (FCSL) and the Winter Garden baseball club will be working with the community to establish and roll out further details regarding the team.
“We are looking forward to joining such a great and established area. In the coming weeks, the league will announce coaches and staff members who will lead the Winter Garden baseball program in its inaugural year.”
The addition of Winter Garden to the league’s roster of franchises ensures it will be able to maintain a six-team structure for the fourth straight season. In addition to Leesburg and Winter Garden, the four remaining franchises include, DeLand, Sanford, College Park and Winter Park, the defending champions.
For the Lightning, the new franchise makes for a shorter road trip. Previously, the team’s closest road games were played in Sanford and DeLand.
The FCSL will begin its 11th season in June. It one of 11 wood-bat leagues around the country affiliated with the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball — an alliance of college summer wood bat leagues which operate under National College Athletic Association (NCAA) legislation. It is partially funded by Major League Baseball.
The Leesburg Lightning will begin its eighth season in the FCSL in June. The first team in league history to win two championships, the Lightning have played in five FCSL title games, all of which were played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays.