This week opens another season of Florida’s Grapefruit League and there are still baseball sites that true fans should visit if they are in the state.
MCKECHNIE FIELD in Bradenton has been a spring baseball facility since 1923. For years the Spanish mission building had no lights, no official parking lot, and only local vendors. Recent upgrades and enlargements for the Pittsburgh Pirates have not changed the neat old-time atmosphere of Florida’s oldest spring training park. It is a must visit for its preservation of baseball atmosphere.
McKechnie Field Is Still A Classic
Florida’s oldest spring facility is the JACKIE ROBINSON BALLPARK in Daytona Beach. Built in 1914, the same year as Wrigley Field, today it only hosts minor league and college teams. On March 17, 1946, Jackie Robinson made his professional major league debut and a wonderful statue of the Dodger great is outside the field.
Jackie Robinson Statue in Daytona Beach
GEORGE STEINBRENNER FIELD in Tampa is relatively new but the $30 million dollar 11,000 seat facility not only has a duplicate of the Yankee Stadium field inside, it has a Monument Park filled with the famous placards and quotations of Yankee history.
Historic DODGERTOWN was deserted by the Dodgers in 2009, but the 110 acre complex, the brainchild of Branch Rickey, is now filled with college and high school players and even football teams (Gads) in training. It is worth a stop if you are driving past Vero Beach.
AL LANG FIELD, the birthplace of Florida spring baseball competition, has been converted into the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer field, but baseball fans visiting St. Petersburg should take a ten block walk from Al Lang along Central Avenue to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
This “Baseball Boulevard” contains some 85 brass home plaque plaques describing the history of professional baseball in the area from the 1913 St Louis Browns to the arrival of the Rays. Plaques describe key events such as the 1939 collapse of Lou Gehrig in a spring game.
Lou Gehrig on Baseball Boulevard, St Pete
Some Florida baseball landmarks are hidden away from visitors. My favorite spot in Tampa is on the University of Tampa campus where Plant Field once housed spring training. On April 4, 1919, Babe Ruth of the Red Sox hit a 587 foot homer against the New York Giants. Evangelist Billy Sunday was given the ball so this plaque is the only sign of that event.