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History



     

Jacksonville pro baseball was founded in 1904. It began when the Jacksonville Jays participated in the South Atlantic League. In those days, baseball was played at Dixieland Park in the Southside of town. Back then, most fans would have to ride ferries to attend the games because there were still no bridges connecting one side of the St. John's River to the other.
 

 
Dixieland Park, early 1900's




Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack (dark shirt, right) brought his 1916 Philadelphia Athletics to train in Jacksonville.
But even before then, Jacksonville hosted baseball's first Spring Training Jacksonville was the site for the first Major League Baseball spring training in 1888 as the Washington Statesmen hosted the Philadelphia Athletics, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Nationals. It has been said that the Brooklyn Dodgers actually owned ships which would dock at the Hogan Street pier.
 
The first half-century witnessed Jacksonville professional baseball teams go through several league and name changes. From 1904-1950, they played in three different South Atlantic League classifications: Class C (1904-1917), Class B (1936-1942) and Class A (1946-1950). Jacksonville was a member of the Florida State League (Class C) and the Southeastern League (Class B) as well. The team that began its history as the Jays, also were known as the Scouts, Tarpons, Roses, Indians and Tars during this period. Not to be outdone, Jacksonville's boys also managed to bring home three league championships in 1908, 1912 and 1927. Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm pitched in Jacksonville from 1948-49. Red Cap Field, or Durkee Field, hosted both the minor league Tars and negro league Red Caps teams in the post-war years.
 
 

Jacksonville pro baseball's longtime early home, Durkee Field, or Red Cap Field, still stands on Myrtle Avenue.



Jacksonville Red Caps, circa 1930
All-time home run leader Hank Aaron was a Jacksonville Brave in 1953 and joined Felix Mantilla and two Savannah players to first integrate the South Atlantic League. Jacksonville fans were privileged to see a 19-year-old Aaron, freshly signed from Mobile, Ala. Managed by the legendary Ben Geraghty, who Aaron called the kindest and best manager he ever played for, he garnered the Most Valuable Player award that season, batting .362 with 208 hits, 36 doubles, 125 runs batted in and 115 runs. The next season, Aaron was signed to a Major League contract by the Milwaukee Braves and began his run to the Hall of Fame. The '50s stabilized Jacksonville's pro baseball circuit. The Braves made the playoffs six times in the decade, compiling a 770-665 (.537) record and capturing the 1956 South Atlantic League championship. Knuckleball expert Phil Niekro, who won 318 Major League games, also played for the Braves in the 1960 and was later inducted into Cooperstown.
 
 
Aaron and Mantilla



Niekro and Geraghty
Here come the Suns. The Braves remained in Jacksonville through the 1961, but pulled up stakes as triple-A baseball settled in. The Cleveland Indians moved their International League team from Havana, Cuba, to Jacksonville in 1962 and the Suns were born. The Suns were affiliated with the Indians for two seasons, including in 1963 when Tommy John pitched. (He later won 288 Major League games.) The St. Louis Cardinals were the Suns' affiliate in 1964-65 and then the New York Mets were for three seasons. The Mets brought Jacksonville two Hall of Fame pitchers - Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver - and its only triple-A Championship in 1968. But the Mets were lured away from Wolfson Park by a new ballpark in Norfolk, Va., after the season; and for 1969, Jacksonville was without a professional baseball team for the first time since World War II.
 
 
The Suns' logo in the
1960s, '70s and '80s.




Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver
The Southern League welcomed Jacksonville in 1970, where the team has played since. It is the longest consecutive association of any city with a Class AA league. Jacksonville owns the SL record for most playoff appearances, 14, but until 1996, the team had not captured a Southern league Championship. It remains the team's lone outright league championship, though the Suns have reached the series finals 10 times.
 
 
Membership has its privileges and the Suns were treated to a good pipeline of talent from the Kansas City Royals. The Royals became the Suns' in 1972 and remained through the 1983 season. Suns teams marched their way to five Championship Series with the Royals as their parent club. Two future big league managers used Jacksonville as a stepping stone: Billy Gardner, Sr., (1972-74) and Gene Lamont (1980-83). Both won Manager of the Year awards: Gardner in 1973 and Lamont in 1982.
 
 

The Jacksonville Expos were born following the 1984 season. First, the team signed a new player development agreement with the Montreal Expos and agreed to be named after the parent club. Secondly, the team was purchased by Peter D. Bragan, Sr., an automobile dealer from Birmingham, Ala. Bragan's ownership of the club marks the longest tenure of any owner in Jacksonville professional sports history.
 
 
Bragan and Mayor Jake Goldbold
Expos teams made trips to the playoffs in four of the seven seasons they were in Jacksonville, but again finished just shy of bringing the city its first Southern League championship. The Expos years were probably the richest in Major League talent as a number of players went on to The Show including Randy Johnson, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Marquis Grissom, DeLino DeShields and John VanderWal, to name a few.
 
 
Larry Walker and Andres Galarraga
In 1991, the Suns signed a four-year agreement with the Seattle Mariners. Although the team finished over .500 only once during this period, the team had a number of individuals who performed well and later went on to the Major Leagues. Bret Boone, Mike Hampton and Chris Widger are among those who left Jacksonville and played in the Major Leagues.
 
 
Bret Boone and Alex Rodriguez
Seattle left for Wilmington, N.C., after the 1994 season and the Suns began a six-year run as an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Things started to look brighter for the Suns future as Tigers' farm hands brought the Suns within one out of the playoffs in 1995 and then swept through the Southern League in 1996. The Suns captured both the first and second half championships before beating the Carolina Mudcats for the Eastern Division title and the Chattanooga Lookouts for the first Southern League Championship. The Suns nearly won its second title in 1998 behind Southern League Most Valuable Player Gabe Kapler. After winning the first half and owning the top record in the Minors, the Suns swept Knoxville in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Mobile in the finals.
 
 


Gabe Kapler
Following the 2000 season, the Tigers left for Erie, Pa., and the Suns signed a four-year agreement with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Playing as an affiliate to one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports, the Suns got off to a blazing start as they stormed to the first half crown in 2001. The Suns advanced to the finals, but because of the September 11th tragedy, the Southern League cancelled the games and declared the Suns and the Huntsville Stars co-champions. The Suns reached the finals again in 2002, but were swept by the Birmingham Barons in three games.
 
 
The Suns began a new chapter in 2003 with the opening of the $34 million Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. The facility, built by Jacksonville taxpayers as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan, housed a franchise-record 359,979 fans in its inaugural season and surpassed that mark in year two, drawing 420,495 through the gates. The Suns welcomed the 1,000,000th fan to the Baseball Grounds in just its fourth season and have led the Southern League in attendance each of those years.
 
 
Main Gate, Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville
Since the opening of the Baseball Grounds in 2003, the crowning achievement has been winning the Southern League Championship in 2005. Led by two-time Southern League Manager of the Year John Shoemaker, the Suns stormed through the regular season and the Southern League playoffs while earning Baseball America's coveted Minor League Team of the Year honors. Behind current major leaguers Russell Martin, Chad Billinglsey, Jonathan Broxton and James Loney, along with top prospects Juan Guzman and Andy LaRoche, the Suns put together one of the greatest single teams in Jacksonville Baseball history en route to a memorable championship. Shoemaker returns to the Suns for the 2008 campaign with a distinguished lineup of future major league pitchers including Clayton Kershaw and Scott Elbert.  
Martin (Left), Loney (Right) and the 2005 Southern League Champions
In 2009 the Florida Marlins became the seventh parent club in Jacksonville's Southern League history. Commenting on the affiliate change Suns President and General Manager Peter Bragan Jr. felt "it was best for the Jacksonville Suns to have a parent club close to home. It's an easy ride down I-95 to see the big club now, and we're excited to have a part in the bright future of Marlins baseball." Manager Brandon Hyde led the Suns in their inaugural season as a Marlin affiliate.  
Manager Brandon Hyde
In their first season as a Marlins affilate the Suns exceeded all expectations by posting an 82-58 overall record and winning the Southern League Championship. The League Championship is the ninth in the City of Jacksonville's professional baseball history (1904-present), and fourth since the Suns joined the Double-A Southern League (1970-present).  
2009 Southern League Champs
In just the second season as the Marlins affiliate the Suns repeated as Southern League Champions with an 81-59 record. This marks the 10th championship in the city's professional baseball history and the 5th title since the Suns became a member of the Southern League in 1970.  
2009-2010 Michael Stanton
Two young stars made their mark in the Major Leagues with the Marlins as outfielder's Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison both made their debut in 2010, giving baseball a glimpse of the future Florida Marlins.  
2009-2010 Logan Morrison