The Florida Fire Frogs (High A; Florida State League) will depart Osceola County Stadium at the end of the 2019 season after owners accepted a half-million-dollar buyout from the country to make way for a MLS training complex at Orlando Heritage Park.
The buyout of the Fire Frogs lease is part of the plan to convert the former spring-training complex for the Houston Astros to a training complex for Orlando City SC. We covered that development at our Soccer Stadium Digest site, The original plan was turn the ballpark training fields into soccer pitches, with the ballpark remaining in place, along with training spaces for Orlando City, Orlando City B and the Orlando City Development Academy. A new plan unveiled this week, however, expanded Orlando City’s commitment to Orlando Heritage Park and expanded the project’s scope. And while it looks like the ballpark will remain in place, it may be converted for pro soccer in the form of Orlando City B, Orlando City’s USL League One team. Orlando City B currently plays out of Montverde Academy, but will shift operations to Orlando Heritage Park for the 2020 season.
The 20-acre training complex will feature four fields–three natural grass and one artificial turf–a fitness, training and recovery center; film review room; as well as a players’ lounge and meal room. The MLS team will be allocated two of the grass fields, with OCB and the Development Academy sharing the remaining grass field and the turf field.
And although the Fire Frogs buyout was expected, it still shakes up Florida State League operations for 2o20. Following the 2016 season, the former Brevard County Manatees moved from Space Coast Stadium in Viera to Oscecola County Stadium–the former spring-training home of the Houston Astros, and a former Minor League Baseball ballpark for the Kissimmee Astros/Cobras (High A; Florida State League)–and rebranded as the Fire Frogs. Originally, Osceola County and the Fire Frogs agreed to a three-year lease that included 23 one-year options that could be exercised by the team annually. Given that the county threatened to evict the team, the buyout was pretty inevitable. From the Osceola News-Gazette:
Team owner David Freeman confirmed this week that he has agreed to and signed an agreement proposed by Osceola County, who will pay him $500,000 to terminate its lease, currently a series of 23 one-year team options to stay, and vacate at the end of the season.
“We haven’t worked anything out past that,” said Freeman, who also has ownership stakes in two other minor-league franchises, and will retain the rights to own and operate a Florida State League team.
The Fire Frogs are the High-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The Braves now base their Florida operations at CoolToday Park in North Port, and the Braves also have a desire to own their affiliates. While there certainly would be some territorial issues with a move to North Port (the new ballpark is in southern Sarasota County, about ten miles from Charlotte Sports Park, home of the FSL’s Charlotte Stone Crabs and spring home of the Tampa Bay Rays, there’s no doubt North Port is an option.