The 2007 season will feature Florida State League tributes to two baseball legends, the return of the Flying Tigers and a host of managerial changes. Here are 10 things keep an eye on in Advanced Class A baseball:
1. In honor of Buck
Legendary Negro Leaguer Buck O'Neil will be honored April 14 during a series of community events in Sarasota, Fla. The events will begin at 1 p.m. ET and end shortly before the Sarasota Reds and Tampa Yankees square off in a Florida State League game at 6 p.m. Filmmaker Ken Burns, who featured O'Neil in his 1994 documentary, "Baseball," will be on hand to dedicate a memorial to O'Neil and speak about the former player and manager's impact on the sport. O'Neil was a former Negro League batting champion and later became the first African-American to serve as a Major League coach.
2. Here's to you, Mr. Robinson
For the first time since 1983, the Florida State League All-Star Game will return to Jackie Robinson Ballpark, home of the Daytona Cubs. As the league's top performers compete on June 16, fans will be treated to a Jackie Robinson tribute. It was 61 years ago when Robinson made his Minor League debut and played his lone season with the International League's Montreal Royals. Three days later, the Carolina and California Leagues will square off in their 11th annual interleague All-Star Game. This year, the midsummer classic will be held at Banner Island Ballpark, home of the Stockton Ports. It marks the first time a California League Northern Division team will host the contest. As part of Fan Fest, Oakland Athletics Vice President and General Manager Billy Beane will be the keynote speaker at an All-Star luncheon.
3. Enjoy a rare view in Visalia
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to sit in a dugout during a game? If so, head over to Recreation Park and watch a California League contest from the "players' eye view" of the Visalia Oaks' new Dugout Suite. Both teams will still have use of their dugouts, however as part of a $5 million renovation project, the Dugout Suite will act as a third dugout and offer fans a rare glimpse of the game. The new attraction will be connected to the Hot Corner Bar and is expected to be ready by Opening Day; along with renovated restrooms and concession stands, a new playing surface and a children' playing area.
4. A new era dawns in Vero
They say all good things come to an end, and after 60 years of Spring Training in Vero Beach, Fla., the Los Angeles Dodgers are planning to move to an $80 million complex in Glendale, Ariz., in 2009. The Dodgers want to move closer to their fans in Southern California, but to some, it's a disappointing end of an era. The Dodgers' Florida State League affiliate already has ended its 27-year stay at Holman Stadium, which has been turned over to the Vero Beach Devil Rays. The Inland Empire 66ers have become the Dodgers' Class A Advanced affiliate.
5. Flying Tigers take off
For nearly 40 years, Lakeland was known simply as the Tigers. This season, however, in conjunction with their Veterans Day celebration, Detroit's Advanced Class A affilitae will be known as the Flying Tigers. The term refers to Lakeland's history as a World War II training site for pilots. As part of Opening Day celebrations, the team will feature an air show, including a special appearance by two 1941 Flying Tigers.
6. Diamond days
Things will be a little different for the Lake Elsinore Storm this season. In a recent agreement with the City of Lake Elsinore, the Storm announced they would take over year-round operations at The Diamond and launch a separate division called the Diamond Stadium Group, with Bruce Kessman as its general manager. The objective of the new entity is to create an entertainment hub that will include festivals, swap meets, concerts, baseball tournaments, circuses and holiday celebrations at the stadium.
7. Wilmington's hot dog challenge
Two of our favorite pastimes collide in Delaware as the Wilmington Blue Rocks host their first-ever competitive eating contest. If you like to eat and enjoy watching Minor League Baseball, Frawley Stadium is the place to be this season. Prior to five Blue Rocks' home games, there will be qualifying events on April 28, May 19, June 23, July 28 and Aug. 11. The culmination will be the Hot Dog Eating Challenge on Sept. 3. The winner of each round will be awarded four tickets to an upcoming Blue Rocks game, while the Hot Dog King will get $100, a $50 Best Buy gift card, a $50 Dick's Sporting Goods gift card and use of a luxury suite for a 2008 Blue Rocks game.
8. In honor of Brett
Frawley Stadium also will host an appearance by George Brett on Aug. 21, with the first 1,000 fans receiving a George Brett bobblehead doll. The Hall of Fame third baseman led the Royals to their lone World Series championship in 1985 and was the first Major Leaguer to record 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, 600 doubles, 100 triples, 1,500 RBIs and 200 stolen bases. His 3,154 hits are tops among third basemen in big-league history.
9. New man in St. Lucie
There were a bunch of managerial changes during the offseason, perhaps none more surprising than Frank Cacciatore taking the helm of the St. Lucie Mets. Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter guided St. Lucie to the Florida State League championship in his first season and was named 2006 Manager of the Year. But when Carter declined the Mets' offer to move up to Double-A Binghamton last December, Cacciatore was offered the St. Lucie job. Last season, Cacciatore managed Class A Hagerstown.
10. Lucky seven
Here's a look at seven other managerial changes:
The Modesto Nuts are looking to Jerry Weinstein to stabilize things. A year ago, Chad Kreuter began the season in the dugout but left after 56 games to become coach at the University of Southern California. Glenallen Hill finished up the year before becoming the first-base coach of the Colorado Rockies. Prior to joining Modesto, Weinstein spent five seasons as an assistant coach at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
Gaylen Pitts is the new skipper of the Palm Beach Cardinals. Last season, he managed short-season Staten Island to the New York-Penn League championship. Former Cards manager Ron "Pop" Warner was given a bump and will manage Double-A Springfield.
Kevin Bradshaw takes over the Lakeland Flying Tigers while Mike Rojas serves as interim manager of the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in place of the ailing Larry Parrish. Bradshaw, who managed the Tigers' affiliate in the Gulf Coast League a year ago, will wear a cap designating his status as "commander."
Sarasota native Joe Ayrault is the new manager of the Sarasota Reds. This will be his first managerial job after one season as the team's hitting coach. Ayrault replaces Donnie Scott, who assumes the reins at Class A Dayton.
Darren Bush replaces former Stockton Ports manager Todd Steverson, who was promoted to Double-A Midland. Prior to joining the Ports, Bush spent three seasons coaching in the independent Can-Am League.
Former Major League infielder Jeff Branson and Gary Green have switched jobs. Branson will serve as manager of the Lynchburg Hillcats, while Green is slated to serve as skipper of Hickory Crawdads.
Jody Davis gets a promotion from Class A Peoria to the Daytona Cubs. The former big-league catcher replaces Buddy Bailey, who moves up to manage Triple-A Iowa.
Marc Jimenez is a contributor to MLB.com.