Al Lang Stadium

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Al Lang Stadium
Al Lang Field
Progress Energy Park.jpg
Al Lang Stadium in a baseball configuration
Former names Florida Power Park, Progress Energy Park
Location 180 2nd Avenue SE
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701
Coordinates 27°46′05″N 82°37′59″W / 27.7681°N 82.6331°W / 27.7681; -82.6331Coordinates: 27°46′05″N 82°37′59″W / 27.7681°N 82.6331°W / 27.7681; -82.6331
Owner City of St. Petersburg
Operator City of St. Petersburg
Capacity 7,227
Surface Grass
Construction
Opened 1947
1976 (rebuilt)
Renovated 1998 and 2011
Construction cost $300,000[1] (original)
Tenants
New York Yankees (spring training) (1947–1950, 1952–1961)
St. Louis Cardinals (spring training) (1947–1997)
St. Petersburg Saints (FIL) (1947–1954); (FSL) (1955–1965)
New York Giants (spring training) (1951)[2]
New York Mets (spring training) (1962–1987)
St. Petersburg Pelicans (SPBA) (1989–1990)
St. Petersburg Cardinals (FSL) (1965–1997)
Baltimore Orioles (spring training) (1991–1995)
ACC Tournament (1997, 2002)
St. Petersburg Devil Rays (FSL) (1998–2000)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Rays (spring training) (1998–2008)
C-USA Tournament (2000)
Canada nat'l baseball team (spring training) (2011–present)
Dutch nat'l baseball team (spring training) (2011–present)
Nexen Heroes (spring training) (2011–present)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) (2011–present)
Baseball at the stadium - last pitch of the final spring game on March 28, 2008
The grandstand at Al Lang Stadium

Al Lang Stadium[3] is a stadium in Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, United States. Originally a baseball park, first built in 1947, reconstructed in 1976, and renovated in 1998, it was redesigned as a soccer venue in 2011. The facility is named in honor of Al Lang, a former mayor of St. Petersburg who was instrumental in bringing professional baseball to the city in the early twentieth century.[4]

For many decades, the stadium was the spring training home for a series Major League Baseball clubs and the summer home of their affiliated minor league teams. Tenants included the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Bay Rays, amongst others. The stadium hosted its last spring training game in 2008. Since 2011, it has served as the home pitch for the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer club of the North American Soccer League.

History[edit]

Background[edit]

Professional baseball grew throughout the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century, and clubs sought additional facilities to accommodate their spring training. Al Lang, a businessman in St. Petersburg, Florida, saw a huge potential to attract northeastern teams to his city to take advantage of the warm weather during the early months of the year. Lang and city officials created an incentives package that covered teams' travel expenses and other amenities, which drew in the city's first spring training tenant, the St. Louis Browns, in 1914. The club trained at Coffee Pot Park, a small ballpark located beside Coffee Pot bayou about a mile north of the current site of Al Lang Stadium. Subsequently, other Major League Baseball clubs such as the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees came to St. Petersburg for spring training, and Lang continued promoting the city when he was elected Mayor of St. Petersburg in 1916. After his term, Lang devoted his life to building a successful connection between Florida and baseball, and was instrumental in marketing St. Petersburg as a desirable sports site.[4][5]

With Al Lang's support, the city replaced Coffee Pot Park with St. Petersburg Athletic Park (also known as Waterfront Park) on the present site of Al Lang Stadium in 1923. It served as the spring training home for Major League Baseball teams the Boston Braves and the New York Yankees until after World War II, hosting baseball greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial.[6]

Current stadium[edit]

In 1947, the city of St. Petersburg demolished Waterfront Park and constructed a modern baseball park on the same site. It was named Al Lang Stadium in honor of his many years of service to the city and his continual promotion of baseball in the area. The St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees shared the new ballpark in its first spring training season.

The stadium underwent a major reconstruction in 1976, expanding its capacity to 7,227.[7] It was renovated again in 1996; the project cost $640,117 and included disability accommodations.[8] In 1998, local utility Florida Power purchased the park's naming rights for $150,000 per year, and the city rechristened it Florida Power Park at Al Lang Field.[9] When Florida Power's name was changed to Progress Energy in 2003, the stadium's official name was also changed.[10][11] In 2011, the naming rights contract expired, and the facility was renamed Al Lang Stadium.

Baseball[edit]

Professional baseball[edit]

Over the years, the stadium hosted many thousands of spring training and minor league baseball games. Past spring training tenants included the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants, New York Mets, and Baltimore Orioles. Minor league tenants included the St. Petersburg Saints of the Florida International League and the St. Petersburg Cardinals of the Florida State League. Al Lang Stadium's final minor league tenant was the Class A St. Petersburg Devil Rays, who last played at the stadium in 2000.[12]

In 1998, the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays began using the stadium for spring training. As their regular season home was at Tropicana Field approximately one mile west, the Devil Rays became the first major league team to train and play regular season games in the same city in almost 90 years. In 2006, the Rays, seeking to expand their fan base across the Tampa Bay area, decided to move their spring training operations to Charlotte Sports Park about 80 miles to the south.[13] They played their last spring training ballgame at Al Lang Stadium on March 28, 2008.[14]

Since 2008, Al Lang Stadium has not served as the home field for any baseball teams, but it has hosted occasional amateur and various other exhibition ballgames. Most notable of these is the International Baseball Series held annually since 2011 in February or March. This event involves international teams, national teams, and local college and high school teams along with squads from various major league organizations that are already in the area for spring training.[15]

Amateur baseball[edit]

College, high school, and international teams have played baseball at Al Lang Stadium for its entire existence. These games are still played during the off-season of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, when the field is converted back into a baseball configuration.[16]

The 1997 and 2002 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Tournaments were played at the venue. Florida State won both tournaments.[17] The 2000 Conference USA Baseball Tournament, won by Houston, was also held at the park.[18]

Currently, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has a baseball club. The club does have a team that, during its first season during the 2013-14 school, played at Al Lang Stadium. The St. Petersburg City Council decided on June 30, 2014 that contracts between the school and the stadium will continue to be drawn up.

Soccer[edit]

In 2011, the soccer team FC Tampa Bay of the North American Soccer League announced it would move to Al Lang Stadium from George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.[19] This ended three years in which the stadium had no long-term tenant. Al Lang Stadium subsequently underwent minor renovations to convert it into a soccer facility, with temporary seats added on the grass along the sidelines to increase capacity.[20][21] The team played its first game at Al Lang on April 9, 2011, and later changed its name to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, after the historical team that had played from 1975 to 1993.[22][23]

On October 27, 2012, the Tampa Bay Rowdies became the 2012 NASL Champions by winning the two-leg Soccer Bowl against the Minnesota Stars at Al Lang Stadium. It was the first time that a major championship was held at the site.[24] In 2013, the Rowdies signed a lease extension keeping the team at Al Lang Stadium through the 2016 season.[25]

In 2014, Rowdies majority owner Bill Edwards publicly complained that the city of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, which manages Al Lang Stadium, have not kept up with maintenance on the grandstand, the team facilities, or the playing field. Edwards offered to help pay for improvements if Al Lang Stadium was converted into a soccer-only facility, but added that the team may have to move if improvements are not made.[16]

Lacrosse[edit]

On January 29, 2013 Major League Lacrosse announced that the 2012 MLL champions the Rochester Rattlers would face the Chesapeake Bayhawks for their season opener at Al Lang stadium. It would be the first time that the league would play there. Part of this game is an effort to evaluate the Tampa Bay Area, and the state of Florida in general, for an expansion team, after MLL held the All-Star game at FIU Stadium the previous year. It was supported by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission who want to affirm the city's brand as a world-class destination for sports tourism.[26][27] The game was played on Saturday, April 27, 2013 in front of 3,940 people (an attendance higher than half the league's average attendance).[28] The Chesapeake Bayhawks won against the Rochester Rattlers 17-14.[29]

Future[edit]

Proposed Rays ballpark[edit]

In 2006, the Tampa Bay Rays announced plans to move their spring training home to Port Charlotte, about 80 minutes south of St. Petersburg, for the 2009 season. On November 9, 2007, Rays President Matt Silverman introduced a plan to build a new $450 million Rays Ballpark on the site of Progress Energy Park to be ready in 2012. The plan failed to garner enough political support to move forward at that time, and it was shelved in June 2008.[30] The Rays began looking at other locations, abandoning the Al Lang site altogether in May 2009.[31]

Soccer specific replacement[edit]

In 2013, the city of St. Petersburg began the process of creating a master plan for the waterfront area that includes Al Lang Stadium. Some of the proposals suggest replacing the entire stadium and surrounding parking areas with a soccer park complex with a new soccer-specific stadium.[32] Rowdies owner Bill Edwards has stated that "in a perfect world", Al Lang Stadium would be replaced by an 18,000-seat publicly financed soccer stadium.[16]

See also[edit]

  • Rawhide - a 1938 feature film starring Lou Gehrig, premiered in St. Petersburg by former Mayor Al Lang
  • Strategic Air Command - Al Lang Field featured prominently as the setting for the first 10 minutes of the 1955 motion picture starring James Stewart and June Allyson. The facility was the real-life spring training home for the St. Louis Cardinals at the time, and Stewart portrayed Robert "Dutch" Holland, a third baseman for the team who is recalled to active duty with the United States Air Force in the film.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stephanie Hayes, "St. Petersburg bids farewell to lovely lady by bay", St. Petersburg Times, March 28, 2008.
  2. ^ "Major Leaguers to Start Spring Training Feb. 20". The Evening Independent. 1951-01-19. p. 14. Retrieved 22 September 2009. [dead link]
  3. ^ Tampa Bay Rowdies. "Al Lang Stadium". Tampa Bay Rowdies. 
  4. ^ a b Ave, Melanie and Krueger, Curtis (March 22, 2008). "Remembering Al Lang, St. Petersburg's Mr. Baseball". Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Florida). Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  5. ^ Fountain, Charles (2009) Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training. New York: Oxford University Press, pages 23-32.
  6. ^ Marc Topkin, "All-Time Spring Team", St. Petersburg Times, February 10, 2008.
  7. ^ Moncada, Carlos (August 28, 2006. [http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/InfoWeb?p_product=AWNB&p_theme=aggregated5&p_action=doc&p_docid=113E09E635C70378&p_docnum=2&p_queryname=1 S"t. Petersburg Considering Life Without Al Lang Field" The Tampa Tribune. Retrieved May 13, 2014.
  8. ^ Chick, Bob (March 1, 1996) "Al Lang enjoys being pampered after 20 years". The Tampa Tribune. Accessed May 13, 2014.
  9. ^ Florida Progress Corporation filing statement, March 12, 1998.
  10. ^ CP&L and Florida Power officially re-branded Progress Energy as of Jan. 1 Florida Progress news release, January 2, 2003.
  11. ^ Hay, Louis (October 3, 2002) "Lights out for Florida Power name". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  12. ^ Bryan Gilmer, "Deal to sell 'Baby Rays' wrapped up" St. Petersburg Times, July 18, 2000.
  13. ^ http://www.sptimes.com/2006/08/16/news_pf/Southpinellas/If_Rays_go__Al_Lang_c.shtml
  14. ^ Aaron Sharockman, "St. Petersburg to see its final spring training game Friday after 94 years", St. Petersburg Times, March 23, 2008.
  15. ^ http://www.stpeteinternationalbaseball.com/index.php
  16. ^ a b c Edwards to city: Fix Al Lang field or the Rowdies may have to move | Tampa Bay Times
  17. ^ "2012 ACC Baseball Guide". TheACC.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  18. ^ "2012 Conference USA Baseball Media Guide". p. 75. Archived from the original on 2012-06-21. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  19. ^ "Mainsail Suites, Lotto among FC Tampa Bay 2011 season sponsors". Tampa Bay Business Journal. March 9, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2013. 
  20. ^ NASL. "FCTB To Play At Al Lang Stadium". North American Soccer League. 
  21. ^ http://nasl.com/index.php?id=3&newsid=64
  22. ^ Dietrich, Jim. "No Longer Just a Kick in the Grass - The Rowdies are officially back!". Stadium Journey. 
  23. ^ Quarstad, Brian. "Tampa Bay Rowdies Change Name to FC Tampa Bay | IMSoccer News". Insidemnsoccer.com. Retrieved September 13, 2012. 
  24. ^ NASL. "Tampa Bay Wins NASL Championship Series After Penalty Shootout". North American Soccer League. 
  25. ^ News | Tampa Bay Rowdies
  26. ^ MLL Communications. "Rochester Rattlers to face 2012 MLL Champion Chesapeake Bayhawks in St. Petersburg, Fla. on April 27". Major League Lacrosse. 
  27. ^ "Bayhawks, Rattlers to play regular-season game at Al Lang Stadium". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  28. ^ MLL. "League Attendance". Major League Lacrosse. 
  29. ^ MLL Communications. "Dixon Leads Bayhawks to Opening 17-14 Win". Major League Lacrosse. 
  30. ^ Rays president optimistic about baseball in bay area | Tampa Bay Times
  31. ^ "St. Pete waterfront ballpark a no-go". RaysBaseball.com. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  32. ^ Woodrow Cox, John. "St. Petersburg creates master plan for downtown waterfront". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 

External links[edit]