Spring Training is in full swing, and that means that baseball fans are descending upon our Gulf shores to watch their favorite players pitch and hit. There are the big celebrity athletes (like Derek Jeter) competing against no names, who are hoping to make it to the Big Leagues. It’s an exciting time for both athletes and groupies. And it means a significant boost in tourism (hotels, restaurants, bars, lounges, florists, strip clubs) locally.
Spring Training in Florida first happened in the late 1800s, when the Philadelphia Phillies spent a winter in Jacksonville. One hundred years ago, in 1913, however, the Chicago Cubs started playing in Tampa during the off-season. Over the next few years, more teams relocated to Florida, forming the Grapefruit League. (Conversely, the Cactus League calls Arizona home during February in March.)
In terms of notoriety, Tampa and St. Petersburg saw a great deal of Babe Ruth during Spring Training. The most famous of Babe Ruth’s hitting exploits in Tampa Bay took place at the late-Plant Field on April 4, 1919, when, during a game between Ruth’s Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants, he hit the longest home run of his career—587 feet.
Now, Spring Training is a much more organized system with Steinbrenner Field in Tampa serving as the stomping ground for the New York Yankees. During the month of March, there are some great matchups between the Yankees and teams like the Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays. You can buy tickets here.
Other teams playing on the West Coast include the Baltimore Orioles (Sarasota), Boston Red Sox (Fort Myers), Minnesota Twins (Fort Myers), Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater), Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton) and Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin).
Many players fall in love with the Bay area while wintering here: Derek Jeter is perhaps Tampa’s greatest economic Spring Training success story. He became so enamored with the area that he built a $7.7 million, 30,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom, nine-bath mansion on Davis Islands. It is one the largest homes in the county.
March is the month to catch all of the action, peanuts and crackerjacks. Let’s Play Ball!