Al Lang Stadium

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Al Lang Stadium
Al Lang Field
Al Lang Stadium SSS.jpg
Aerial rendering view of Al Lang Stadium as a soccer-specific stadium
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
Opened 1947
1976 (rebuilt)
Renovated 1998 and 2011
Owner City of St. Petersburg
Operator City of St. Petersburg
Surface Grass
Construction cost $300,000[1] (original)
Capacity 7,227
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
Progress Energy Park.jpg
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 7,227-seat 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.

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. 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]

History[edit]

With Al Lang's support, the city built the 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] In 1947, the city constructed a new baseball park on the same site and named it Al Lang Field in honor of Lang's years of service to the city and state. It would eventually host the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants, and New York Mets. By 1976, the stadium underwent a major reconstruction, and a succession of teams continued to use the facility. In 1998, the expansion team Tampa Bay Devil Rays moved into the stadium for their spring games. As their regular season home was at Tropicana Field approximately one mile west, the Devil Rays became the first major league team to train in the same city in almost 90 years.

In the same year, 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.[7] When Florida Power's name was changed to Progress Energy in 2003, the stadium's official name was also changed.[8]

Over the years, the stadium was home to many minor league baseball teams including Class-A Florida State League affiliates for the St. Louis Cardinals and then the Tampa Bay Rays. The last minor league tenant was the St. Petersburg Devil Rays, who last played at the stadium in 2000.[9]

The 1997 and 2002 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Tournaments were played at the venue. Florida State won both tournaments.[10] The 2000 Conference USA Baseball Tournament, won by Houston, was also held at the park.[11]

Proposal for new ball park[edit]

In 2005, the Tampa Bay Rays announced plans to move their spring training home to Port Charlotte, about 90 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.[12] The Rays began looking at other locations, abandoning the Al Lang site altogether in May 2009.[13]

The Rays played their last spring training ballgame at the stadium on March 28, 2008.[14] For the first time in several decades, the stadium was without a tenant. It did not host a professional sporting event between April 2008 and March 2011. Then, during Spring 2011, the stadium hosted a series of exhibition contests between international baseball clubs, including three contests versus MLB teams. That year, the facility was renamed Al Lang Stadium.

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.[15] This ended three years in which the stadium had no long-term tenant. Al Lang Stadium subsequently underwent renovations to convert it into a soccer facility.[16][17] 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.[18][19]

On October 27, 2012, the Tampa Bay Rowdies became the 2012 NASL Champions by winning the Soccer Bowl at Al Lang Stadium. It was the first time that a major championship was held at the site, and the first in which its home team won the title.[20] The Rowdies defeated the Minnesota Stars (presently Minnesota United FC) in a two game aggregate series after a penalty shootout. In 2013, the Rowdies signed a lease extension keeping the team at Al Lang Stadium through the 2016 season.[21]

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.[22][23] 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).[24] The Chesapeake Bayhawks won against the Rochester Rattlers 17-14.[25]

Future[edit]

In 2013, the city of St. Petersburg began the process of creating a master plan for the waterfront area that is currently in discussion. Several concepts and designs are being proposed for the site. One includes replacing the entire stadium and surrounding into a soccer park complex with a new soccer-specific stadium.[26]

See also[edit]

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. ^ Florida Progress Corporation filing statement, March 12, 1998.
  8. ^ CP&L and Florida Power officially re-branded Progress Energy as of Jan. 1 Florida Progress news release, January 2, 2003.
  9. ^ Bryan Gilmer, "Deal to sell 'Baby Rays' wrapped up" St. Petersburg Times, July 18, 2000.
  10. ^ "2012 ACC Baseball Guide". TheACC.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  11. ^ "2012 Conference USA Baseball Media Guide". p. 75. Archived from the original on 2012-06-21. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  12. ^ Rays president optimistic about baseball in bay area | Tampa Bay Times
  13. ^ "St. Pete waterfront ballpark a no-go". RaysBaseball.com. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  14. ^ Aaron Sharockman, "St. Petersburg to see its final spring training game Friday after 94 years", St. Petersburg Times, March 23, 2008.
  15. ^ "Mainsail Suites, Lotto among FC Tampa Bay 2011 season sponsors". Tampa Bay Business Journal. March 9, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2013. 
  16. ^ NASL. "FCTB To Play At Al Lang Stadium". North American Soccer League. 
  17. ^ http://nasl.com/index.php?id=3&newsid=64
  18. ^ Dietrich, Jim. "No Longer Just a Kick in the Grass - The Rowdies are officially back!". Stadium Journey. 
  19. ^ Quarstad, Brian. "Tampa Bay Rowdies Change Name to FC Tampa Bay | IMSoccer News". Insidemnsoccer.com. Retrieved September 13, 2012. 
  20. ^ NASL. "Tampa Bay Wins NASL Championship Series After Penalty Shootout". North American Soccer League. 
  21. ^ News | Tampa Bay Rowdies
  22. ^ MLL Communications. "Rochester Rattlers to face 2012 MLL Champion Chesapeake Bayhawks in St. Petersburg, Fla. on April 27". Major League Lacrosse. 
  23. ^ "Bayhawks, Rattlers to play regular-season game at Al Lang Stadium". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  24. ^ MLL. "League Attendance". Major League Lacrosse. 
  25. ^ MLL Communications. "Dixon Leads Bayhawks to Opening 17-14 Win". Major League Lacrosse. 
  26. ^ Woodrow Cox, John. "St. Petersburg creates master plan for downtown waterfront". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 

External links[edit]