Payne Park was located at the southeast corner of Adams Lane and South Washington Boulevard in Sarasota, Florida. The stadium was part of a 60 acre park named in honor of Calvin Payne, a Sarasota winter resident who donated the land to the city in 1923. From 1924 to 1988, the ballpark was the spring training home of four major league teams.
John McGraw’s New York Giants were the first team to train at Payne Park. John Ringling (of Ringling Brothers Circus), who was a friend of McGraw’s and a Sarasota resident, convinced McGraw to bring his team to Florida.
McGraw was so enamored with Sarasota that he invested in local real estate with the hopes of constructing a housing development known as Pennant Park on Sarasota Bay. When the Florida real estate bubble burst in 1927, McGraw left Sarasota and the following season his Giants trained in Augusta, Georgia.
From 1929 to 1932, the American Association Indianapolis Indians held spring training at Payne Park. In 1933 the Boston Red Sox moved their spring training operations from Savannah, Georgia, to Sarasota. The Red Sox trained at Payne Park for the next 25 years, until 1958, with the exception of the war years, 1943 to 1945.
Once the Red Sox departed, the Los Angeles Dodgers played a few spring training games at Payne Park during the 1959 season, although they also continued to train at their facility in Vero Beach. The Chicago White Sox arrived at Payne Park in 1960, training there until 1988. In 1979, Tony LaRussa began his first of eight seasons training at Payne Park as manager of the Chicago White Sox. LaRussa eventually would win 2,728 games as manager, third on the all time list and just behind fellow former Payne Park resident John McGraw (2,763).
Sarasota constructed a new ballpark two miles northeast of Payne Park to replace what was considered, after 65 season, to be an antiquated facility. Ed Smith Stadium, located at 2700 12th Street, opened in 1989 as the new spring training home for the White Sox, where they trained until 1997. Both the Cincinnati Reds (1998-2009) and the Baltimore Orioles (1991) trained there as well.
After the Reds departed Sarasota in 2009, the Orioles returned, moving into a completely refurbished ballpark in 2010.
Payne Park was demolished in 1990. Sarasota constructed a tennis center on a portion of the former ballpark site.
Although the ballpark itself is gone, the player’s clubhouse, located at the intersection of Adams Lane and South Washington Boulevard, was preserved and is used today as offices and a clubhouse for the tennis center.
In 2011, the City of Sarasota Employee Health Center was opened in a section of the building.
The tennis center includes a memorial wall inside the clubhouse that tells the history of the site.
Included in the display are pictures of the ballpark and the players who called it their home.
Also included is a blueprint for the redevelopment of Payne Park, which shows the former location of the ballpark, and the tennis center that replaced it.
The former Sarasota Terrace Inn, seen to the left in the postcard below, once dominated the Sarasota skyline surrounding the ballpark .
Built in 1925 by John Ringling, the landmark, along with the old Sarasota County Courthouse tower (both seen in the postcard above), once dominated the skyline.
The hotel was purchased in 1962 by Arthur Allyn, Jr., co-owner of the Chicago White Sox, to house the team during spring training.
The former hotel (seen behind the larger office building to the right in the picture below) is useful in determining where the ballpark once sat.
In 1972, Sarasota County purchased the building. It currently is used as a Sarasota County administration building.
Payne Park’s former infield, and a portion of the outfield, is covered by 12 regulation-size tennis courts (there are four rows of three courts each).
The former site of home plate is located in what is now the second row of tennis courts closer to Adams Lane.
The former outfield is encircled by two roads that date back to the time of Payne Park.
The first is Payne Parkway, which straddles the right field corner.
The second is Laurel Street, which intersects Payne Parkway and runs behind what was once center field, terminating at the former left field corner.
A grass field occupies what was once the deepest part of center field.
Just to the east of Payne Park was once a mobile home park which opened in the 1920s.
Although the trailer park is now gone, one vestige remains – the Payne Park Auditorium, formerly known as the Sarasota Mobile Home Park Auditorium. Constructed in 1962, it is located just beyond what was once center field at 2062 Laurel Street. The auditorium was built as a meeting place for mobile home park residents.
At the intersection of Adams Lane and East Avenue is a historic maker for Payne Park.
Behind the historical marker is a small outline of a ball field set in pavers.
The sign is located in what was once a parking lot behind third base. Although Payne Park is long gone, it is still possible to play ball where some of baseball’s greatest stars once trained. You just need racket, not a bat and glove, in order to play.