The year was 1914, baseball was entrenched as America’s pastime, and St. Petersburg was ready to make its debut as a winter tourist mecca.
Al F. Lang, the city’s tireless promoter and an ardent baseball fan, scored a major coup that year by introducing major league baseball spring training to the city.
Up until Lang’s arrival in town, no big league team had ever trained on Florida’s west coast, but the value of big-time baseball as a tourist draw and economic engine had been recognized for some time. The Cincinnati Reds had played an exhibition game in town in 1908, at a ball field located on Mirror Lake, and in 1912 the
city’s Board of Trade made an unsuccessful effort to bring in the St. Louis Cardinals.
A group called the St. Petersburg Major League and Amusement Company lured the St. Louis Browns to spend the 1913 season at a new park on Coffee Pot Bayou. But the team left town after suffering a $1,000 loss.
Lang stepped in a year later and success followed. A determined effort by Lang brought in the Philadelphia Phillies in 1915. Then the Boston Braves began a spring training run that would last until 1937, when they would be replaced by the Cardinals. Al Lang’s popularity soared. He became nationally known as St. Petersburg’s “ambassador of baseball” and in 1916 was elected mayor.
The city’s baseball fortunes continued to rise. In 1925, the nation’s premier team, the New York Yankees, chose St. Petersburg as their spring training site, a relationship that lasted 35 years. Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and other baseball greats became “hometown boys.”
The bayfront ballpark was renovated and christened Al Lang Field in 1947. Thirty years later, the old wooden grandstand was replaced by Al Lang Stadium.
In 1998, St. Petersburg gained its own major league baseball team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Glistening, state-of-the-art Tropicana Field became its home, but storied Al Lang Stadium continued to host the local team’s spring training games.
Today, the future of Al Lang Stadium is uncertain. While the Rays are scheduled to relocate their spring training site to Charlotte County, they have proposed to build a new open-air stadium for their regular season games at the PRESOR historic site