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18th annual Islands Night: Annual event is May 18th at Hammond Stadium

By Staff | May 12, 2011

Richard Johnson and Francis Bailey stand with Sam Bailey's Model-T Ford, which leads the Island's Night parade each year.

Sam Bailey has been called a true legend on Sanibel Island. When he passed away in September 2010, Sam left a few traditions for his community. As the founder of two beloved community events, Sam’s legacy has a way to be remembered.

One of those events, the Baileyfest, is held every October at Bailey’s Center. As a way to bring Sanibel and neighboring Captiva together, Sam also created Islands Night.

The annual event was born in 1993 when Sam was approached to be a sponsor for the Fort Myers Miracle baseball team. He took that idea and turned it into an entire evening at the ballpark to celebrate both islands.

By renting the entire stadium, Sam thought there could be special events held throughout the game. Banners will be in the stands, games for the kids, along with popcorn, soda and beer available.

“Make it a real special night,” Sam once said.

The late Sam Bailey stands with Sanibel Mayor Kevn Ruane and county planner Judie Zimomra during the 2010 Islands Night.

For the first time since its inception, Islands Night will continue without its creator.

“It was never about the money or sponsorship,” noted Richard Johnson, general manager of Bailey’s General Store, which has been owned and operated by the Bailey family for more than a century. “It was about helping island charities and bringing islanders together.”

Islands Night will return to Hammond Stadium at the Lee County Sports Complex in Fort Myers on May 18. Prior to the first pitch of the baseball game between the Brevard County Manatees and the host Miracles at 7:05 p.m., pre-game traditions at the ballpark include a parade along the stadium’s warning track, tailgating in the parking lot, singing of our National Anthem by a local “celebrity” and the introduction of the islands’ baseball and softball all-stars.

Inclement weather has befallen the event over the years. It has nearly become a tradition for it to rain during Islands Night. Last year, the event committee thought it would capitalize on the misfortune by selling umbrellas. But the rain never came.

“When rain spoiled the event, it upset Sam,” said Johnson. “He took it personally.”

The late Sam Bailey graces the cover of last year's Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce magazine. Sam established Islands Night as a way to bring islanders together for a fun evening at the ballpark.

As a man steeped in tradition, Sam would write a poem for each Islands Night. His final rhyme summed up the long-standing celebration:

“The rainmaker is back with all his power

But with God’s help only a quick summer shower

Clearer skies and bright stars, with a gentle breeze

Perfect to watch the homers and the one-base squeeze

This is more than just a game

It’s a fun gathering with the island’s name

If you become a sponsor for just $100

You will be entitled to sing, laugh and holler

You’ll be listed on the game’s scoreboard

You can ride in the parade with Sam’s T-Ford

Food, drink and much more pomp

As the kids and players do the romp

So sign up for this grand affair

When you arrive, you’ll be glad you’re there!”

With the well-deserved nickname ‘Coach,’ Sam established a way to help local graduating high school seniors. Some of the proceeds from Islands Night goes toward a cash gift to help kids living on Sanibel or Captiva take that next step in life.

“Sam would talk to the students about spreading their wings,” said Johnson.

In addition, money raised from sponsorship is distributed to local charities.

Free general admission tickets for Islands Night, which begins when the gates open at 5:30 p.m., are available at Bailey’s General Store (2477 Periwinkle Way), at the offices of the Island Reporter (2340 Periwinkle Way, Unit K) and Sanibel Recreation Center (3880 Sanibel-Captiva Road).

Honor Sam’s memory by picking up free tickets and enjoying a special evening of baseball, food and community spirit.