Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Baseball Place No. 27: Baseball Boulevard; Alternative place No. 27A: Thomas White Stadium/Tradition Field

Anybody having a good time at spring training this year – and that includes me – needs to thank Al Lang.

Early teams bounced around southern states in the weeks before a new season to get their players in shape.

Lang, the mayor of St. Petersburg, saw the potential in bringing teams together in one spot, train and play practice games before paying customers.

St. Pete in 1913 was a dry town, which appealed to folks like Branch Rickey, who thought it might be a good idea to keep players focused on baseball.

Today, Lang is remembered with a stadium named in his honor and a street.

Baseball Boulevard stretches the 10 blocks between Al Lang Stadium and the Tropicana Dome, where the Rays spend the season. It's also the home of the Ted Williams Museum.

It's of special note to Mets fans because the team trained there between 1969 and 1987, sharing the complex with the Cardinals. I found that poster with the schedule for both teams at a card show in Michigan. Clearly the pitcher is Seaver, but I can't figure out why the artist decided to give him a moushstache.

The street begins with a bust of Lang, and historic moments in spring training are reflected on monuments along the way.

Josh Pahigian selected Baseball Boulevard to be spot No. 27 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I’ve never been to St. Petersburg, but I have seen the Mets numerous times in their new home in Port St. Lucie.

Alternative place No. 27A: Thomas White Stadium/Tradition Field

It was a big deal when the Mets made the move across the state in 1988. Here’s what General Manager Frank Cashen said about the new spot in the spring program:

“And about the setting, you can call the new St. Lucie County Sports Complex anything you want, but please don’t spare the adjectival superlatives. ‘Terrific,’ ‘Fantastic.’ ‘Outstanding’ – none of them are laudatory enough. ‘Matchless’ and ‘Incomparable’ are probably a little closer.”

So Frank liked the place. Other people called it “Port St. Lonesome” because the new complex was considered in the middle of nowhere, one of the first stages of development in the area.

There was some truth to that. And the ballpark was kind of cold, long on poured concrete and short on charm.

That’s all changed, as you know from the post with photos from my recent trip. Now called Tradition Field, the ballpark is one of the nicer ones I’ve seen and the setting is beautiful.

But let’s take a look back at some of the early days. My folks moved about 40 minutes south of St. Lucie in the early 1990s, and naturally we started making annual treks to see the Mets.

Sunshine Sis joined me for a game in 1993.

Thomas J. White Stadium was named for the developer behind the St. Lucie project.

Not a lot to see along the third base side. Today there's a tiki bar and tables. And trees.

Right field before the addition of the berm seating area. The scoreboard's been expanded and moved to left.
There's not a bad seat in the house.

We were there for the Jeff Torborg era. Here's the skipper bringing out the lineup card.

HoJo meets some fans.
Maybe we should have held on to Jeff Kent -- but hire someone to wash his monster truck.
I have no idea what Eddie Murray was swinging in the on-deck circle. But it looked intimidating. Luckily Eddie took at regular bat to the plate.

Here's a later shot, notable because I was able to catch Mo Vaughn in action. Sort of, it's an intra-squad game.

1 comment:

G-Fafif said...

I think this is the first of your "I haven't been there" places that I have been. Great memories of St. Pete in springtime. Like summer in March. Sorry you missed it.

Lovin' the series.