Posts Tagged ‘St. Petersburg’

Waterfront Park/Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Florida

January 17th, 2014

Professional baseball first came to St. Petersburg, Florida, as early as 1908 when the then- independent St. Paul Saints played an exhibition game against the National League Cincinnati Reds. In 1914, businessman and future mayor Al Lang convinced the St. Louis Browns to come to St. Petersburg and train at Sunshine Park – also known as Coffee Pot Park because of its location near Coffee Pot Bayou in St. Petersburg. The Browns stayed in St. Petersburg only one season. From 1915 through 1918, the Philadelphia Phillies trained at Coffee Pot Park.

Postcard of Waterfront Park, St., Petersburg,Florida (Pub. By Gulf Coast Card Co., St. Petersburg, FL, C.T. Art Colortone, Curt Teich, Chicago IL

In 1922, a new ballpark opened along the shoreline of Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg on a patch of land that was part of the city’s mile-long Waterfront Park. The ball field, also known as Waterfront Park, was located at the intersection of 1st Avenue S.E. and First Street S.E. It was the spring training grounds of the Boston Braves beginning in 1922.

Postcard of Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg, Florida (Pub. By Hartman Card Co, Pinella FL)

In 1925, the New York Yankees began training in St. Petersburg at nearby Crescent Lake Park, while playing some of their games at Waterfront Park. The Braves departed St. Petersburg after the 1937 season and the St. Louis Cardinals moved to Waterfront Park in 1938, sharing the facility with the Yankees for Spring Training games.

Al Lang Field Postcard, St. Petersburg, Florida (Pub. By Sun News Co. St. Petersburg FL, Cureich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone)

In 1947, Waterfront Park was demolished and replaced by Al  Lang Field, named in honor  of the man who helped establish St. Petersburg  as a spring training mecca. Al Lang Field was constructed on land one block south of  the northern most point of Waterfront Park.

Entrance to Al Lang Field (Detail of Postcard Pub. By Sun News Co., St. Petersburg FL, Curteich Chicago, C.T. Art Colortone)

Thus, the grandstand at Al Lang Field was built on top of Waterfront Park’s former infield.

Al Lang Field Postcard (Pub. By Sun News Co., St. Petersburg FL, Curteich Chicago, C.T. Art Colortone)

The exact location of Waterfront Park in relation to Al Lang Field is evident by comparing the two ballparks as they appear below in the two aerial postcards of Waterfront Park and Al Lang Field.

Waterfront Park:

Aerial Postcard of Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg, Florida circa 1932 (Pub. By Hartman Card Co., Tampa, FL)

Al Lang Field:

Aerial Postcard of Al Lang Field (Pub. By Hartman Litho Sales, Largo FL, Photo by St. Petersburg News Service)

As can be seen from the above two postcards and the postcard below, a parking lot for Al Lang Field was constructed where Waterfront Park’s grandstand once stood. In the city block just north of the parking lot is Pioneer Park, which honors St. Petersburg’s earliest settlers.

Al Lang Field Postcard (Pub. By Sun News Co. St. Petersburg FL, Cureich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone)

In 1977, Al Lang Field was demolished and replaced by Al Lang Stadium, a concrete structure with little of the charm offered baseball fans at Al Lang Field and Waterfront Park.

View of Progress Energy Park Taken from Former Site of Waterfront Park Third Base Grandstand

In 1998, the naming rights to Al Lang Stadium were sold and the stadium was renamed Florida Power Park. It later was renamed Progress Energy Park in 2003.  The stadium complex currently is known as Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park.

Plaque Honoring Former St. Petersburg Mayor Al Lang

The Yankees departed Al Lang Field for Fort Lauderdale after the 1960 Spring Training season and the Cardinals departed for Palm Beach after the 1997 season.

Dedication Plaque Al Lang Stadium, 1977

Other professional teams that once called the ballpark home were the New York Giants (1951), the New York Mets (1962-1987), and the Baltimore Orioles (1992-1995).

Ramp to Concourse from Gate 2, Progress Energy Park

In 1998, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays took over the ballpark.

Tampa Bay Rays Souvenir Stand, Progress Energy Park

The Devil Rays, a 1998 MLB expansion team, played their regular season  games at  the Tropicana Dome, located less than two miles west  of Progress Energy Park.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida

Although the concrete structure of the stadium itself leaves much to be desired, the setting at Progress Energy Park was one of the most beautiful of all spring training venues, current or former.

Progress Energy Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The view of the playing field, with Tampa Bay as a back drop,wais breathtaking.

Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

Beginning in 2005, the Tampa Bay Rays began a campaign to build a new major league ballpark on the site of Progress Energy Field. However, those plans met public opposition and quietly were withdrawn in 2009.

Artist Rendering of Proposed Ballpark on the Grounds of Progress Energy Field, to Replace Tropicana Field

The Rays trained at Progress Energy Park through the 2008 season.

Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

In 2009 the Rays moved to a new ballpark in Port Charlotte, Florida, 80 miles south.

Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, Florida

Charlotte Sports Park previously had been the home Spring Training home for the Texas Rangers. The park was renovated prior to the Rays arrival in 2009.

Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Coaches at Progress Energy Park in 2008

The facade of Progress Energy Park includes a series of  plaques which in 1998 had been part of the “Jim Healey and Jack Lake Baseball Boulevard.” The 85 brass home plate plaques that made up the Baseball Boulevard told the story of Major League baseball St. Petersburg.

Facade of Progress Energy Park Circa 2012

One of the plaques honors the opening of Waterfront Park in 1922. However, the plaque states, incorrectly, that Waterfront Park was located on land that later became Bayfront Center, an indoor sports arena built in 1965 and demolished in 2004. The former site of Bayfront Center is now the Salvador Dali Museum, which is located south of Progress Energy Field on Bay Shore Drive.

Plaque at Progress Energy Park Honoring Waterfront Park

Progress Energy Park is still used to today, mainly for minor league soccer and music concerts. Although St. Petersburg residents appear to favor keeping the site a public park, it seems only a matter of time before the stadium itself is demolished. Hopefully, the historic field will be maintained, for it represents over 90 years of baseball spring training history.

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Posted in Florida ballparks, Waterfront Park/Al Lang Field/Progress Energy Park | Comments (2)

Crescent Lake Park/Huggins-Stengel Field in St. Petersburg, Florida

January 12th, 2014

Crecent Lake Park is located at 1320 5th Street N in St. Petersburg, Florida. In the southern most part of the park, tucked away in a residential neighborhood, is an important and relatively unspoiled historical baseball site.

Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

Beginning in 1925, the ball field at Crescent Lake Park was the spring training home of the American League New York Yankees.

Postcard Crescent Lake Field, St. Petersburg, Florida (Curteich-Chicago, published by Sun News Co., St. Petersburg

The park is dominated by a large, crescent-shaped lake (hence the name) located in the center of the park.

The Lake at Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The former training grounds appear much as they did when the Yankees made the field their spring training home.

“Babe Ruth, King of Swat, at St. Petersburg, Florida” Stereo Card, Published by Keystone View Company, Meadville PA (Library of Congress Division of Prints and Photographs, Washington, D.C.)

Such greats as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the rest of the 1927 World Champion Yankees played on this unassuming ball field.

Baseball Practice Field at Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The Yankees trained at Crescent Lake Park until 1942.

Babe Ruth Training At Crescent Lake Park, Late 1920s

In 1943, when World War II restricted travel for things such as spring training, the Yankees stayed closer to home, training in Atlantic City and Asbury Park, New Jersey. The Yankees returned to Crescent Lake Park in 1946.

Baseball Backstop, Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

In 1947, the Yankees moved their spring training home games less than two miles south to Al Lang Field, now known as Progress Energy Park.

Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

Joe DiMaggio At Crecsent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

They continued to hold practice sessions at Crescent Lake Park.

Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

Beginning in 1947, the Yankees shared Al Lang Field with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Progress Energy Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The Yankees continued to use Crescent Lake Park as a spring practice field until 1961, with the exception of 1951 when they trained in Phoenix, Arizona (the Yankees and the New York Giants swapped spring training sites for one season, with the Yankees training that year in Arizona). In 1962 the Yankees departed St. Petersburg and the west coast of Florida for a new stadium built for them on the east coast in Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale Stadium, Former Spring Training Home of the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles

In 1962 the New York Mets took over the spring training at Crescent Lake Park. The Mets trained there through the 1987 season and played their home games at Al Lang Field (renamed Al Lang Stadium in 1977). From 1992 to 1995, the Baltimore Orioles trained at Crescent Lake Park, with their home games being played at Al Lang Stadium.

Practice Field, Crescent Lake Park Baseball Complex, St. Petersburg, Florida

In 1931, Crescent Lake Park was renamed Miller Huggins Field, after the manager of the Yankees who had died in 1929. In 1962, Casey Stengel returned to Crescent Lake as Manager of the New York Mets and, in 1963, the facility was renamed Huggins-Stengel Field. Today it is known as Huggins-Stengel Baseball Complex.

Huggins-Stengel Baseball Complex Sign, St. Petersburg, Florida

The grandstand at Huggins-Stengel Field was never particularly large, holding only a few thousand fans. Today, seating at the stadium consists only of a few rows of metal bleachers.

Bleachers at Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

A water tower that dominates the skyline at the southern end of the park remains from the time when the field was used for major league spring training.

Water Tower at Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The base of that same water tower is is clearly visible in this postcard photograph of Huggins Field.

Postcard “Huggins Field, On Crescent Lake , Spring Training Camp Of Major League Baseball, St. Petersburg, Florida, ‘The Sunshine City.'” Natural Color Reproduction – Cureichcolor Art Creation, Sun News Co.. St. Petersburg

Several other structures dating back to the Yankees’ days at Crescent Lake remain as well.

Practice Field with Original Club House in Backgrouind, Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

Most notably, one of the original clubhouses remains. Inside the building is one wooden locker purportedly dating back to the time when the Yankees trained there.

Club House, Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

Outside the former club house (Building #4) are two plaques commemorating Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel.

Plaques Honoring Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel, St. Petersburg, Florida

The plaque honoring Miller J. Huggins states: “As a memorial and tribute to an outstanding sportsman and splendid character, who as Manager of the New York Yankees and resident of this city contributed to its fame and the betterment of baseball, the citizens of St. Petersburg dedicate this ground, which forever shall be known as Miller Huggins Field.”

Plaque Honoring Miller Huggins at Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The plaque honoring Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel states: “One of baseball’s most popular and widely known figures who as Manager of the New York Yankees won ten American League Pennants in 12 years helping to make the Sunshine City the spring training capital of the world and who now has returned as Manager of the New York Mets this plaque is gratefully and affectionately dedicated.”

Plaque Honoring Casey Stengel at Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The original flag pole remain as well.

Flag Pole at Crescent Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The neighborhood surrounding the park appears much the way it did when the Yankees and Mets practiced at the facility.

Houses Located on 5th Street, Across from Crescent Lake Park’s Baseball Complex

On the facade of Progress Energy Park in downtown St. Petersburg are a series of  plaques, some of which mention the history of Crescent Lake Park and Huggins-Stengel Field. Previously, those plaques had been part of the “Jim Healey and Jack Lake Baseball Boulevard,” which included 85 brass home plate plaques that told the story of Major League baseball St. Petersburg. The Boulevard plaques originally were located from First Street S in front of Al Lang Stadium to Central Avenue south along the sidewalk, to 13th Street west, stopping at Tropicana Field.

Progress Energy Park, With Historic Plaques Lining the Facade, St. Petersburg, Florida

One of the plaques commemorates the Yankees’s first year at Crescent Lake Park.

Progress Energy Field Plaque Honoring 1925 Arrival of the Yankees in St. Petersburg, Florida

Another plaque commemorates the renaming of Crescent Lake Park Miller Huggins Field in 1931.

Plaque at Progress Energy Field Honoring Former Yankees Manager Miller Huggins

A similar plaque honors the return of Casey Stengel to Crescent Lake in 1962 as manager of the New York Mets.

Progress Energy Stadium Plaque Honoring Former New York Yankee and Mets Manger Casey Stengel

Another plaque commemorates the renaming of the practice field Huggins-Stengel Field in 1963.

Progress Energy Stadium Plaque Commemorating Renaming of Huggins-Stengel Field

Huggins-Stengel Baseball Complex is used today by high school and college teams for both practice and games. The City of St. Petersburg recognizes the historical significance of the park and seems intent on maintaining it as a baseball facility. This is good news for fans of the game who want to appreciate first hand the national pastime’s rich history.

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Posted in Crescent Lake Park/Huggins-Stengel Field, Florida ballparks | Comments (5)