Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Baseball Place No. 61: Jackie Robinson Ballpark; and No. 61A) Plant City Stadium

Florida is littered with discarded major-league spring training sites.

Some, like Dodgertown, sit abandoned. Others find new life as minor-league homes. And there are others who lead less glorious lives, but, at least avoid the bulldozer.

Josh Pahigian takes us to one such place in Jackie Robinson Stadium in Daytona Beach as spot No. 61 in his “101 Baseball Place to See Before You Strike Out.”

The original stadium was built in 1914 and for years served as a minor-league stadium and was home to the Dodgers’ minor-league spring training camp in 1946 when Jackie Robinson made his debut in the Dodgers’ organization.

Josh reports that Branch Rickey selected the site because Daytona was fairly progressive in terms of race relations.

And the future Citi rotunda honoree was indeed greeted warmly.

It was expanded to host the Expos in 1972, and today is the home of the Daytona Beach Cubs, who have a sweet cap logo, which looks like a decapitated bear on spring break, with his cool dude shades and backward cap.

The ballpark was named after Robinson in 1990, and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Alas, I’ve never been, though do have a cap.

But I have been to another small park that once hosted spring training and now has new life.

Alternate Place No. 61A) Plant City Stadium

The Reds trained in Plant City, not too far from Orlando, for 10 years starting in 1988. We caught a game against the Pirates on March 19, 1997.

It’s funny that the program cover reads “Reds and Strawberries Forever.” The strawberries are the local crop and I’m sure they’re still grown there. But the Reds were in their final year in Plant City before moving on to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

Plant City Stadium was nothing fancy. There was lots of concrete like St. Lucie in the early days.

The Ray Knight-led Reds beat the Pirates 10-7, with the Pirates scoring five of their runs in the first inning off Dave Burba.

About the best player the Pirates threw out there was Kevin Elster, and the Reds had future Mets Lenny Harris and Ruben Sierra.

The highlight was walking down the ramp after the game and bumping into Peter Gammons. I tried to do the journalist-to-journalist chit-chat thing, and he humored me. I’m sure I asked him a Mets question, though I can’t recall what it was. I do remember him being very gracious and friendly.

After the Reds fled, the stadium gained new life as a softball hub.

It is now home of the International Softball Federation, and hosts tournaments. And, and, at one time the Tampa Bay FireStix and Florida Wahoos of the Women’s Professional Softball league.

FireStix and Wahoos? Those names don’t seem entirely progressive.

1 comment:

G-Fafif said...

The Strawberry Festival! Not Darryl hitting homers but a festival devoted to strawberries, Plant City's moment in the late winter sun every February. I remember it well from my Tampa days.

1988 was my last Spring Training game to date, Phillies at Reds in Plant City. It was a consolation prize for not having the wherewithal to schlep across the state to St. Lucie, also new that year. Mildly surprised I've never gotten back for more pretend games, but since my wife graduated from college, there isn't as much impetus.