The Fort Myers Mighty Mussels finished the 2021 season on a high note, throwing a no-hitter on the final weekend of the season while winning three out of four games against the top team in the league.
Regi Grace Jr., Landon Leach, Brad Hanner and Matthew Swain combined to no-hit the Tampa Tarpons in the final night game of the season, allowing only two base runners in the entire game. It was the franchise’s first no-hitter since 2011.
“It was so cool to sit there and watch four guys who have overcome a lot this year,” Mighty Mussels manager Brian Meyer said. “The joy that all of the players had with it was special.”
The Mussels’ followed it up with an exciting comeback win 5-4 over the Tarpons on Sunday – wrapping up the season with a 60-54 record.
After the 2019 season ended early due to the threat of Hurricane Dorian and the 2020 season was wiped out entirely due to the pandemic, smiles were aplenty amongst all involved for the final weekend of 2021. Things felt normal again – and the stringent MLB COVID policies had done their job.
“It was a different year from a non-baseball standpoint between COVID and the testing,” Meyer said. “I’ll remember the players and where they are at this point of their career. We’ve had 20 guys promoted to Cedar Rapids and I’m happy that I was able to play just a small role in their overall development.”
The Mussels did not register a single positive test all season, unlike several teams around Minor League Baseball. They completed 114 games, two dozen less than usual but still a fair share given the season’s late start.
The 2021 season included many highlights – none greater than the September 18 no-hitter. Willie Joe Garry Jr. began the season with a home run in the first at bat of the season. The Mussels enjoyed three walk-off wins and several late comebacks – using the Hammond Stadium crowd to finish 34-24 at home.
Most importantly for the organization, the Mussels’ coaching staff pushed 20 players to the next level – working hard behind the scenes to get them to High-A Cedar Rapids.
“It’s an organization-wide philosophy that no one guy is less important the other,” said Meyer. “It’s a team effort to get all of our players trending in the right direction no matter how long it takes. There’s a never-give-up attitude and we do a really good job of collaborating and putting the player first.”
When the team got hot, it was led by pitching. The Fort Myers pitching staff led the league in ERA, posting a 3.96 mark. Pitching coaches Peter Larson, Carlos Hernandez and Dan Urbina all had a hand in developing a staff that had zero ranked prospects when the season began. Despite the lack big names, everyone on the staff was able to contribute and some pitchers dominated.
“They’ve really stuck to the script in terms of what our organization philosophy is, hammering that home from a development and execution side,” said Meyer. “Pete has been on top of things from day one – his drive, his passion and his resolve to see these guys grow and make sure they’re accomplishing their goals and pushing them to the next level.”
With three weeks left in the season, the Mussels were hovering around the five-hundred mark, teetering on the edge of a losing season. The Twins gradually assigned seven members of their 2021 draft class to the Mussels’ roster – a group of players whose drive and determination as newly-signed pros changed the course of the season. Two of those players really stood out to Meyer.
“(Christian Encarnacion-Strand) is relentless in his preparation – in the cage, with scouting reports and his defensive work,” Meyer said. “That’s rubbed off on some other guys. Cade Povich – you can just tell by his demeanor and how he goes about his business that he has a really bright future in this organization.”
In the end, the 2021 season ended with baseball – with weather and the pandemic in the rear-view mirror. The Mussels’ front office has already begun planning for the 2022 season – and can’t wait to announce a new lineup of daily specials and promotional nights. With the 2022 schedule being unveiled in the coming weeks, local residents and groups are always welcome to call (239) 768-4210 to offer feedback and recommendations on what they want to see next season.