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The history of Triple-A baseball in Jacksonville

Nolan Ryan pitched for the Triple-A Jacksonville Suns in 1967.
December 9, 2020

This story originally appeared on the Jumbo Shrimp's Shrimp & Grits blog on Medium. It is official: The Miami Marlins have invited the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp to be their top minor league affiliate. The move would mark the second time that Jacksonville will field a Triple-A team. The city’s earliest

This story originally appeared on the Jumbo Shrimp's Shrimp & Grits blog on Medium.

It is official: The Miami Marlins have invited the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp to be their top minor league affiliate. The move would mark the second time that Jacksonville will field a Triple-A team.

The city’s earliest minor league days can be traced back to the Jacksonville Jays, a Class C team in the South Atlantic League that started play in 1904. The club changed its name to the Tarpons in 1911 and then to the Roses in 1917. Jacksonville did not see minor league baseball following that 1917 campaign until 1921, when the Jacksonville Scouts played in the Florida State League. In 1922, the team’s name changed again, this time to the Indians, but the city then went several more years without a professional baseball squad.

From 1926–30, the Jacksonville Tars played in the Class B Southeastern League. After six more years without baseball, the Tars came back, playing from 1936–42 in the now-Class B South Atlantic League.

Following World War II, the South Atlantic League was designated a Class A circuit, and the Tars began play again in 1946. In 1953, Samuel W. Wolfson bought the team and changed its name to the Braves. Wolfson sold the team in 1957, and continuing a Jacksonville tradition, the name changed to the Jets — albeit for just the 1961 campaign.

That 1961 season ended up being the last year for Jacksonville in Class A. Wolfson returned with a Triple-A baseball team to replace the Class A Jacksonville Jets. He called his new Triple-A squad, which would play in the International League, the Jacksonville Suns.

The Suns were a Cleveland Indians affiliate to start out with, but after two seasons, moved onto the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964–65, and finally, the New York Mets from 1966–68.

The first-ever Jacksonville Suns were a smashing success on the field in 1962, posting a league-best 94–60 record. Jacksonville matched that feat in 1964 with an 89–62 mark before winning the International League Championship in 1968.

During this era of Triple-A baseball in Northeast Florida, several prominent players spent time with the Suns, including right-handers Tom Seaver *_(1966), *_Nolan Ryan *_(1967) and *_Luis Tiant *_(1962), left-handers *_Tommy John *_(1962–63), *_Jerry Koosman *_(1967) and *_Tug McGraw *_(1966–68) and outfielders *_Amos Otis *_(1967–68), *_Ken Singleton *_(1968) and *_Vic Davalillo (1962).

Like the spurts of Minor League Baseball in Jacksonville for much of the first half of the 20th century, this Triple-A era was short-lived; Following the 1968 season, the team was relocated to Norfolk, Va., leaving the First Coast without a team until 1970, when the Suns joined the Double-A Southern League. Jacksonville wound up playing exactly 50 seasons in the Southern League, posting an all-time record of 3,527–3,348 (.513) at the Double-A level. The club won Southern League titles in 1996, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2014.