Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24- Lakeland Flying Tigers



It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written about a Minor League team, and since I’m currently in the state of Florida I couldn’t think of a better time than to write about this awesome Lakeland Flying Tigers cap. The last time I wore this cap, coincidentally, was the first day that Angie Kinderman (@sconnieangie) and I met in person. I had gone to a Tampa Bay Rays versus Boston Red Sox game the night before with Collin Balester and had worn the cap as a form of neutrality as he was playing for the Detroit Tigers in 2012. I didn’t really have a horse in the race in the game we were watching so I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. Angie and I had been chatting it up, planning on which day and which game we were going to go to so I wore it again on the morning of September 19th as I drove down to see her in Fort Lauderdale. The drive was absolute Hell as I had a four-and-a-half hour sojourn to see her in blazing heat which forced sweat out of every pore on my body, but it was all worth it in the end.

I picked this cap up during the summer of 2011 simply based on its absolute awesomeness. The Flying Tigers first introduced it in 2007 when they changed their name from the Tigers after the 2006 season. The Tigers class-A squad has been a fixture of Lakeland, Florida since 1963; however, from 1963-2006 they were simply known as the Tigers. In 2007 the team changed its name to the Flying Tigers to pay tribute to the men who were trained at the Lakeland School of Aeronautics and fought for their country during World War II. The name was taken from the 100-plane squad who flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawks in the Pacific during the war. This hat in particular is their alternate logo cap, which features the P-40 as well as the slogan “Tiger Town USA.” I actually visited Lakeland over the summer, but got there well after the season had ended. Joker Marchant Stadium, where the Flying Tigers play, is also the same facility where the Tigers reside during Spring Training. One of the most alluring features of this cap is the use of the military cap logo on the bill of the cap. Only two other teams in professional baseball history have featured graphics on the bill: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the California League and the 1969 Seattle Pilots, who used almost the same graphic for their hats. The Flying Tigers do feature the same cap, which they wear for home games, minus the military insignia, but I’ve always found this to be a necessary feature for my collection.

In 2012 the Flying Tigers won their first Florida State League championship since 1992 and have only won in two other years previous to that, 1976 and 1977. It’s kind of an interesting stat when you think about it, or any other Minor League team for that matter. The Florida State League consists of 12 total teams, six in the North Division and six in the South. This divisional setup is virtually identical to another other state-based league, yet for a team who has only been around since 1963 you’d assume that the team might have more than four league titles. Even crazier is when you look at Major League Baseball and use that same logic for a team like the Chicago Cubs (founded in 1876), one of the original 16 teams who have played in MLB since the World Series era started in 1903. Mind blowing!

On my previous Flying Tigers post from February 7 I wrote about the team’s road cap and centered it on Andy Dirks and Charlie Furbush, two guys who came up through the Tigers’ Minor League system starting with Lakeland. This time around I found two other guys who are as equal of praise for their time with the Flying Tigers.

#22- Unless you’re well-versed on Tigers drafts picks, or a regular attendee of the Flying Tigers, you’ve probably never heard of Ryan Strieby. Strieby was a 29th round draft pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2004 amateur draft out of the Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood Washington. Rather than stick it out in the minors he opted to transfer to the University of Kentucky where he led the Wildcats to the Southeastern Conference championship game in 2006 where he also won SEC Player of the Year. As the season came to a close Strieby was then drafted in the fourth round by the Tigers and made his Lakeland debut in 2008 after spending the previous two years playing intermediate-A ball with the Oneonta Tigers and the West Michigan Whitecaps respectively. Strieby only played one season with the Flying Tigers, a full 112 game season, and really should have moved up to AA Erie to play with the SeaWolves well before season’s end. I say this because he hit .278 in 2008… in addition to a club record 29 home runs and 94 RBI. In most cases of prospects hitting for that much power throughout a season, even in A ball, they occasionally make their way up to the AAA or even Major League roster in September. This was not the case. Strieby did make to Erie the next season and then on to Toledo to play with the Mud Hens in AAA, the year after that, where he would play until halfway through the 2012 season when he was released by the Tigers and then picked up and signed to a Minor League contract by the Arizona Diamondbacks. During this time he averaged .234. As the 2012 season came to a close, so did his baseball career. Strieby is currently a free agent.

#28- Drew Smyly was drafted by the Tigers in the second round of the 2010 amateur draft and has been a key figure in the bullpen for the Tigers since the start of the 2012 season. He was taken out of the University of Arkansas and made his debut for the Flying Tigers in 2011 where he made 14 appearances as a starter and went 7-3 with a 2.58 ERA and 77 strikeouts before being promoted to Erie where he made seven more starts in eight games and finished his run there with a 4-3 record, 1.18 ERA and 53 strikeouts. Throughout the 2012 season he was moved up and down between the Major League club and AAA Toledo as to make room for a few other pitchers in the rotation/bullpen; however, Smyly has been one of the more consistent long relievers for the club, not to mention has been eagerly available for spot starts when needed.

It’s kind of a shame what happened with Strieby, but then again, these are the breaks of the game. One minute you can be on top of the world and the next you can be fighting to keep your job with the team. Smyly will be a household name within the next few years, and has done a pretty solid job making a name for himself with the Tigers. The two were only separated by two years, which in baseball terms is almost equal to 10 years, depending on what positions need to be filled. The Tigers are stacked with bats, and with Strieby playing as a primary first baseman, it’s a bit difficult to find him a spot in the Bigs with guys like Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez more than capable to fill in for one another.

3 comments:

  1. The Lakeland-Detroit connection has been around for 76 years for Spring Training. I've been to Joker Marchant for Spring Training games, but have never seen the Flying Tigers play. Those 76-77 teams probably featured some Tigers players who made it to the big leagues, and maybe even some on the 1984 World Series team. Go Tigers!

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  2. Looked up the team. Lou Whitaker on 76 Lakeland Tigers. The Manager? Jim Leyland.

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