The Brevard County Manatees of Viera, Florida played twenty-three seasons in the Florida State League. The Manatees were founded as an expansion team in 1994, the same year that Space Coast Stadium was built in Viera with the primary purpose of serving as the then-fresh Florida Marlins’ spring training facility. As is common in the Florida State League, the MiLB club that occupied the stadium in the summer also served as an affiliate for the Grapefruit League user. The Manatees operated in the Marlins’ farm system for the first eight years of their existence, and the team helped develop key cogs for both of the Marlins’ World Series championship rosters, including Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett.
It’s hard to think of a better example of a team built for its time. Not only were the Manatees able to ride the coattails..er..fins of Marlins fever, but they captured the marketing zeitgeist perfectly with their choice of teal as a primary color. In the nineties, it was increasingly clear for MiLB clubs that they could usually make more money by creating cutesy animal identities, and (anecdotally speaking) manatees were a “hot” animal in 1994. The Manatees went all in with marketing efforts, calling themselves the ‘Tees for short and featuring a mascot named Hugh. Yep. Hugh the Manatee.
A major change for the Manatees came following the 2001 season, when the Marlins and the Montreal Expos had to swap spring training facilities as part of the complicated agreement made between MLB and Jeffrey Loria when he bought the Marlins and sold the Expos. As such, the Marlins linked up with the Expos’ FSL affiliate (the Jupiter Hammerheads) and the Manatees had Montreal as a new parent. The ‘Spos and ‘Tees were were linked for two years, but right around the time the Expos moved to Washington, the Manatees sought a new parent club. This was an anomaly in the FSL. Despite the Nationals continuing to have their spring training at Space Coast, the Manatees partnered with an MLB team that does their spring training in Arizona–the Milwaukee Brewers.
The ‘Tees were with the Brewers for a total of twelve years, and during this time the team was able to find footing (finning?) with a post-Marlins identity. The team colors were changed to navy and red, and new uniform styles were created. [MLG Note: It’s a bit of an unsolved mystery as to when exactly this color change took place. It’s tempting to think it was when they were affiliated with the similarly-hued Expos, but we know that at least in 2002, the team wore teal despite the Montreal connection. Furthermore, my 2003 MiLB-produced cap poster has the ‘Tees in teal too. Either way, the new look worked, and now it’s easy to think of the Manatees as having two distinct eras–teal and navy. Lazy Picasso only had one Blue Period.]
One unfortunate development during this time is that the mascot was updated, and inexplicably changed its name to the decidedly lame Manny the Manatee.
During their time with the Brewers, many future All-Stars took the field in Viera, including Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Lorenzo Cain, Jonathan Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress, Scooter Gennett, Mitch Haniger, and Brandon Woodruff. One especially notable part of the Brewers era was that the ‘Tees had jerseys that said the word “Brevard” in the same cursive script as Milwaukee uses for “Brewers” on their uniforms.
After about 20 seasons, the Manatees were just sort of there. Their attendance was mediocre, and each season saw Space Coast Stadium age a little more. The death knell for the Manatees came when the Nationals announced that they were building a new spring training facility (in conjunction with the Astros) in West Palm Beach and would be leaving Space Coast. In the wake of this departure, the Manatees were sold to an ownership group that moved the team to the Atlanta Braves’ spring training complex in Kissimmee, where they are now known as the Florida Fire Frogs.