They may be the boys of summer, but in the spring, they're ours. More than a half-dozen Major League Baseball clubs hold spring training in and around the Tampa Bay area. The beginning of that tradition stretches back 100 years.
It was 1914 when the St. Louis Browns, now the Baltimore Orioles, officially began spring training in St. Petersburg. It began a year earlier in Tampa where the Chicago Cubs started spring training in 1913.
WHERE THE FANS COME FROM
It's not unusual to see baseball caps from all over this time of year. Who can blame people up north for coming for warm sunshine, green grass, and, of course, baseball. In fact, visitors were the backbone of spring training here in the early 20th century.
"The people that they were trying to attract to these spring training games were staying weeks, if not a month, at the Vinoy," explained local historian Jim Schnur. "They were here all season. They had enough disposable income that a ballgame was not that expensive to them."
LEGENDS OF SPRING TRAINING
On a recent visit to the Little Cooperstown collection at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, I noticed that virtually every one of the thousands of baseballs were autographed by players who played spring training games in our area.
The balls are autographed by legends like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Cy Young, Pete Rose, and many others. Schnur declined to name an "All Tampa Bay Spring Training" team. He says so many players have been here over the decades that baseball and Tampa Bay are permanently entwined.
"It's not just one franchise, the Rays; it's the whole sport," he added.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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