Baseball History in St. Petersburg, Florida
The rich history of spring training and Florida's love affair with baseball began in St. Petersburg in 1914 when the city's former mayor, Al Lang, convinced Branch Rickey to move his St. Louis Browns to the Sunshine City for spring training. Prior to 1914 amateur baseball had flourished in St. Petersburg with the first professionals visiting only briefly in 1908 when the Cincinnati Reds played the St. Pete Saints in an exhibition game.
For the next 84 years, St. Petersburg collected springtime memories of America's favorite sport as the Browns, Phillies, Yankees, Mets, Orioles, Cardinals and Rays all trained and played at the Bayfront in St. Petersburg each spring.
Some of the the memories are humorous, like the time Babe Ruth was chased off Crescent Lake Park field (aka Miller Huggins Field and now Huggins Stengel Complex) by a curious alligator. Others are more serious such as the special living arrangements made for African American players by black civic leaders who opened their homes and took in as many players as possible.
Spring Training was first played at Moorefield Park (4th Street and 8th Avenue South) as well as at Coffee Pot Bayou near downtown ... but in 1922 moved to Waterfront Park very near the site of the current stadium. Except for a brief hiatus, from 2009 to 2010, it has been played there ever since.
Click on link below to see 1954 footage of the New York Yankees training at Miller Huggins Field in St. Pete (where high school and college teams play today) and the St. Louis Cardinals training at Al Lang Field.
(Note that the West Coast Coast Inn is still standing in the background right where it was when Babe Ruth broke one of the Inn's windows with a much earlier spring training game line drive! And listen as legendary newsreel voice Ed Herlihy misprounounces then Yankee rookie and later Yankee legend Bill Skowran's last name!)
The Florida Suncoast Dome opened in 1990 with expectations that a Major League Team would soon be on the way - but that dream was not realized until March 1995 when the Devil Rays franchise was awarded. During those years the Suncoast Dome was renamed the Thunder Dome and then Tropicana Field.
In 1998, with the arrival of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg became the team's year-round home for both Spring Training and the regular season. The Rays moved their spring training facilities to Port Charlotte in 2009.