Al Lang Stadium
|Al Lang Field|
Newly renovated Al Lang Stadium
|Former names||Florida Power Park, Progress Energy Park|
|Location||180 2nd Avenue SE
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701
|Owner||City of St. Petersburg|
|Operator||Big 3 Entertainment|
|Field size||110 x 75yd|
|Renovated||1998, 2011, 2015|
|Construction cost||$300,000 (original)|
|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)
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)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) (2011–present)
Al Lang Stadium is a stadium in Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. It is currently the home stadium of the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League (NASL). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. It was renovated again in 1996; the project cost $640,117 and included disability accommodations. 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. When Florida Power's name was changed to Progress Energy in 2003, the stadium's official name was also changed. In 2011, the naming rights contract expired, and the facility was renamed Al Lang Stadium.
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.
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. They played their last spring training ballgame at Al Lang Stadium on March 28, 2008.
College, high school, and international teams have played baseball at Al Lang Stadium and its predecessors on the same site for almost 100 years. Many different tournament, exhibition, practice, and regular season games have been held there, with the University of South Florida St. Petersburg club baseball program the last amateur team to call Al Lang Stadium home during their inaugural season of 2014.
The 1997 and 2002 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Tournaments were played at the venue, as was the 2000 Conference USA Baseball Tournament. From 2010–2014, Al Lang Stadium hosted the St. Petersburg International Baseball Series, which involved international teams, national teams, and local college and high school teams along with squads from various major league organizations that were already in the area for spring training. The event moved to other local venues in 2015.
After the Tampa Bay Rowdies moved to Al Lang Stadium in 2011, the playing surface and seating arrangement had to be constantly alternated between baseball and soccer configurations, especially in the spring. The resulting poor condition of the turf led to complaints by Rowdies management and, in October 2014, an agreement that baseball would not be played at the facility.
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. 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. 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.
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. In 2013, the Rowdies signed a lease extension keeping the team at Al Lang Stadium through the 2016 season.
In 2014, Rowdies majority owner Bill Edwards publicly complained that the city of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, which managed Al Lang Stadium, had not kept up with maintenance on the grandstand, the locker rooms, or the playing field. This was partially due to the fact that although the Rowdies have been the only regular tenant of Al Lang Stadium since 2011, it was regularly used for exhibition and amateur baseball during the spring, necessitating that the playing surface be converted for soccer use by removing the pitcher's mound and replacing the infield dirt with grass. The dispute resulted in the Rowdies filing a lawsuit against the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission in July 2014 claiming that the commission was not properly maintaining the "dilapidated" facility.
Transfer of stadium management
The issues were finally resolved in October 2014 when Edwards and the city of St. Petersburg brokered a deal that gave Edwards' Big 3 Entertainment company management control of Al Lang Stadium for the next four years. As part of the arrangement, the facility would no longer be used for baseball events, and Edwards agreed to complete $1.5 million in renovations as he sought to make Al Lang Stadium more soccer friendly.
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. 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). The Chesapeake Bayhawks won against the Rochester Rattlers 17-14.
On October 31 and November 1, 2015, Al Lang Stadium will host the Halloween Rugby 7s, a rugby sevens tournament featuring eight teams: USA Falcons, USA Hawks, Canada, Argentina, Denver, New York City, Ohio and Utah.
Proposed Rays ballpark
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. In November 2007, Rays President Matt Silverman introduced a plan to build a $450 million new Rays Ballpark at the Al Lang Stadium site that was to be ready for the 2012 baseball season. The plan failed to garner enough political support to move forward, and it was shelved in June 2008. Subsequently, the Rays began looking at other potential locations, and in May 2009, they announced that they would not seek to build a new facility in downtown St. Petersburg.
Soccer specific replacement
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. 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.
- 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.
- Stephanie Hayes, "St. Petersburg bids farewell to lovely lady by bay", St. Petersburg Times, March 28, 2008.
- "Major Leaguers to Start Spring Training Feb. 20". The Evening Independent. 1951-01-19. p. 14. Retrieved 22 September 2009.[dead link]
- Tampa Bay Rowdies. "Al Lang Stadium". Tampa Bay Rowdies.
- 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.
- Fountain, Charles (2009) Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training. New York: Oxford University Press, pages 23-32.
- Marc Topkin, "All-Time Spring Team", St. Petersburg Times, February 10, 2008.
- Moncada, Carlos (August 28, 2006. S"t. Petersburg Considering Life Without Al Lang Field" The Tampa Tribune. Retrieved May 13, 2014.
- Chick, Bob (March 1, 1996) "Al Lang enjoys being pampered after 20 years". The Tampa Tribune. Accessed May 13, 2014.
- Florida Progress Corporation filing statement, March 12, 1998.
- CP&L and Florida Power officially re-branded Progress Energy as of Jan. 1 Florida Progress news release, January 2, 2003.
- Hay, Louis (October 3, 2002) "Lights out for Florida Power name". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
- Bryan Gilmer, "Deal to sell 'Baby Rays' wrapped up" St. Petersburg Times, July 18, 2000.
- Aaron Sharockman, "St. Petersburg to see its final spring training game Friday after 94 years", St. Petersburg Times, March 23, 2008.
- "2012 ACC Baseball Guide". TheACC.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- "2012 Conference USA Baseball Media Guide". p. 75. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-06-21. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
- Edwards to city: Fix Al Lang field or the Rowdies may have to move | Tampa Bay Times
- "Mainsail Suites, Lotto among FC Tampa Bay 2011 season sponsors". Tampa Bay Business Journal. March 9, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
- NASL. "FCTB To Play At Al Lang Stadium". North American Soccer League.
- Dietrich, Jim. "No Longer Just a Kick in the Grass – The Rowdies are officially back!". Stadium Journey.
- Quarstad, Brian. "Tampa Bay Rowdies Change Name to FC Tampa Bay | IMSoccer News". Insidemnsoccer.com. Retrieved September 13, 2012.
- NASL. "Tampa Bay Wins NASL Championship Series After Penalty Shootout". North American Soccer League.
- News | Tampa Bay Rowdies
- "FC Tampa Bay to call Al Lang home for two seasons – St. Petersburg Times". Tampabay.com. January 19, 2011. Retrieved September 13, 2012.
- MLL Communications. "Rochester Rattlers to face 2012 MLL Champion Chesapeake Bayhawks in St. Petersburg, Fla. on April 27". Major League Lacrosse.
- "Bayhawks, Rattlers to play regular-season game at Al Lang Stadium". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- MLL. "League Attendance". Major League Lacrosse.
- MLL Communications. "Dixon Leads Bayhawks to Opening 17-14 Win". Major League Lacrosse.
- Halloween Rugby 7s official website
- Rays president optimistic about baseball in bay area | Tampa Bay Times
- "St. Pete waterfront ballpark a no-go". RaysBaseball.com. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
- Woodrow Cox, John. "St. Petersburg creates master plan for downtown waterfront". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Al Lang Stadium.|
- Al Lang Stadium, City of St. Petersburg official website
- History of spring training in St. Petersburg by St. Petersburg Times
- Picture tour
- Spring training guide to Al Lang stadium
- Progress Energy Park Views – Ball Parks of the Minor Leagues
- Strategic Air Command at the Internet Movie Database