Islands Night returns for 22nd annual community celebration
A former coach, Sam Bailey would be tickled with the new playground for his annual Islands Night/Sanibel and Captiva in Fort Myers.
Officially the CenturyLink Sports Complex, Hammond Stadium in the off-season completed a two year, $50 million renovation that expanded seating and opened concourses, added a boardwalk around the playing field, improved concessions, premium seating and suites. The Minnesota Twins/Fort Myers Miracle playing complex is now more open, offers more points to view activities on the field.
The facelift won’t necessarily change Islands Night, but it will boost the experience for islanders visiting the stadium since renovations were completed prior to the Grapefruit League opening day in March.
Islanders and visitors at the June 17 Islands Night can expect baseball and parades and the fun things that trademark the event. The Fort Myers Miracle will face off against the Daytona Tortugas, the Class A farm team for the Cincinnati Reds. The Miracle this season are sub-.500, with the Tortugas leading the North League.
Ultimately the night is about family and community, said Richard Johnson, who with his family co-owns the Bailey’s General Store complex and worked with Sam Bailey in planning Islands Night in the decade prior to Mr. Bailey’s death in 2010.
“Sam would be very pleased with the continuation of (this) great community tradition,” Johnson said.
Many fans show up at the stadium early for some tailgating, socializing and putting the finishing touches on their pregame “parade floats.” Presenting sponsor Bailey’s General Store manages to line up about 100 sponsors for the festivities. Dozens of island topic “floats” representing Sanibel and Captiva environmental organizations and businesses circle the field as riders toss souvenir trinkets and candy to rail-hugging kids and cheering fans in the stands.
Islands Night also raises money that goes to various charities in the islands, through island vendors selling wares at booths around the stadium’s concourse and a percentage from all food and beverage sales that night.
After all these years of Islands Night, directing the synergy and the marketing, arranging the various details for floats and giveaways, honoring someone to sing the National Anthem, a pleading and votives to the Weather Gods for a mulligan, it’s still “pretty cool,” said Charlene Kocinski, a Bailey’s staffer helping in organizing the event. “We really like what we do.”
What is most fascinating about Island Nights is that the entire event is absolutely free. Sponsors pick up the tab for the tickets. Outsiders marvel at the benevolence, while insiders see the night as right of passage, certainly for year-rounders.
Aside from the tailgates and the floats and the kids running around, the sheer joy of entering a professional ballpark and the sudden impact of a green playing field and the manicured infield, there’s a great game in store.
Sam Bailey poem
As a man steeped in tradition, Sam Bailey 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!”