Image credit: (Photo by J.J. Cooper)
The Florida Fire Frogs finally have a (temporary) home.
Minor League Baseball has approved the Fire Frogs to play at the Braves new North Port facility for the 2020 season. The decision gives some finality to a question that hung over the team all offseason.
The move is only approved for the 2020 season. If the team returns in 2021 (it is on the list of teams that MLB has suggested eliminating during its Professional Baseball Agreement negotiations with MiLB), the long-term issues of a permanent site remain. While North Port is a brand new facility that meets all PBA standards, it is firmly within Port Charlotte’s territorial rights. The decision to put the Fire Frogs in North Port for 2020 is viewed as a necessary temporary measure.
In the end, there wasn’t really another viable option.
After the 2019 season, the team’s owners had sold their rights to play at Osceola County Stadium in return for some cash that helped pay down debts. That stadium has been converted to a soccer stadium.
The move made the Fire Frogs effectively homeless. There was talk of moving the team to Coco Beach, which has a stadium and is outside of any other team’s territorial area. But that stadium does not have clubhouses and it was unclear if the owners would be willing to foot the bills to fund the necessary stadium improvements.
That will not be an issue in North Port, which is a brand new, state-of-the-art facility designed to be the Braves spring training home.
It remains unclear who will foot the bill for running the team in 2020 — Florida State League teams in many cases rank at the bottom of attendance in full season minor league baseball. With a very late start to trying to sell tickets and advertising, it is hard to see how the Fire Frogs will do much better than they did in 2019, when they averaged only 327 fans per game. The club’s total attendance of 19,615 was one of the lowest attendance figures of the 21st century in minor league baseball.