Baseball and the 'Burg

August 11, 2020

Some Fun Facts About Baseball in the 'Burg

Information compiled by PTB volunteer, Lou Kneeshaw

Spring Training History

St. Petersburg had a pivotal role in introducing spring training to Major League baseball.  The movement to have a team here was launched in the summer of 1913.  A local group calling itself the St. Petersburg Major League and Amusement Company with a capitalization of $50,000 signed a spring training contract with the St. Louis Browns to begin playing in St. Petersburg in 1914. A site for the baseball park at the head of Coffee Pot Bayou was leased from Snell & Hamlett for three years. The Browns arrived on February 16, 1914, and on February 27 the first spring training baseball game between two major league teams was played in St. Petersburg. Today, there are 15 of the 30 Major League teams that hold their spring training in Florida, known as the Grapefruit League. The remaining 15 teams hold their spring training in Arizona, known as the Cactus League.      

Coffee Pot Park

The original name of the spring training field in St. Petersburg was Coffee Pot Park (Also known as Sunshine Park).  The park was named for nearby Coffee Pot Bayou.  In the early years, a General Admission ticket was $.25 and a Grandstand ticket was $.50. There is some debate about where exactly the park was located, but it was probably First Street North and 22nd Ave.

A black and white photo of the St. Louis Browns team

The First Spring Training Game

About 4,000 fans attended the first game between the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago Cubs on February 27, 1914. The Cubs won 3 to 2 and spring training baseball was born! The Cubs traveled to St. Petersburg by boat across the bay from their spring home in Tampa.  It was the first and only year the Browns trained in St. Petersburg. The receipts during the first season amounted to approximately $10,500 while the expenses totaled $11,500.  Through the efforts of Al Lang, the Philadelphia Phillies were brought to St. Petersburg for spring training in 1915. The Phillies had such a good spring training that when they traveled north for the regular season, the Phillies won 14 of their first 15 games and eventually won the National League pennant and went on to play in the World Series.

An autographed photo of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and interior shots of the Flori-de-Leon

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the Flori-de-Leon

The New York Yankees first came to St. Petersburg to establish their spring training home in 1925 and played at Waterfront Park. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were extremely popular as the Yankees won 11 pennants between 1921 -1939, which spanned the playing careers of both players. “The city was seized by ‘Ruthamania,” wrote Will Michaels in The Making of St. Petersburg. Ruth and Gehrig spent spring training living in penthouse units of the Flori-de-Leon apartment building located on 4th Ave N.  As the team's star player, Ruth enjoyed bay views from the apartment's Spanish-style rooftop terrace and relaxed evenings beside a fireplace bracketed by carved wood pillars. Interestingly, Babe Ruth’s apartment sold in 2009 to the daughter and son-in-law of Ruth’s maid.  

A photo of the Kids and Kubs team next to a photo of a Kids and Kubs memorial bench

Kids and Kubs - The Three Quarter Century Softball Club

Founded in 1930, the St. Petersburg Kids and Kubs Softball Club limits its membership to players of 75 years of age and older. The Kids and Kubs divide their members into four teams and play each other at North Shore Field on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and some Saturdays beginning at 10:00 AM.  The regular season runs from November 1st to April 1st. In the picture above, the upright portion supporting the bench seat contains four sealed containers of documents, pictures and electronic data in the form of a time-capsule.  The monument was placed during the 75th year of the club’s existence (2005) and it is expected that the capsule will be opened at a ceremony in the year 2030 during the 100th anniversary of the club.

An exterior shot of the Don CeSar Hotel

The Don CeSar Hotel

During World War II, St. Petersburg served as a basic training center.  Hotels and cafeterias were taken over by the US military. In 1942, the U.S. Army purchased the Don CeSar hotel to be used as a hospital, then a convalescent center for airmen returning from their WWII tour. A stomach ailment sidelined Joe DiMaggio and in September 1945, he was transferred to the Army Air Forces’ Don CeSar Convalescent Hospital in St Petersburg, suffering from stomach ulcers. Nine years later, DiMaggio returned to the Don CeSar for his honeymoon with Marilyn Monroe.  At the end of WWII, the site was recommissioned, serving as a Veterans Administration Headquarters - and gradually fell into disrepair - until it was vacated by the U.S. government in 1969. In 1971, with the threat of the wrecking ball looming, a group of concerned citizens led by June Hurley-Young formed the "Save the Don" Committee, vowing to help forge a path to restoration for the once-grand hotel. Thanks to the Committee, the Don CeSar reopened in 1973 as a full-service resort and in 1974 the Don CeSar was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  

Photo of a baseball game taking place at Al Lang Stadium on a sunny day

Al Lang Stadium

A 1955 movie starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson was filmed at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg.  The movie was Strategic Air Command.  Jimmy Stewart portrayed a third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals who is recalled for active duty after serving as a B-29 bomber pilot in World War II.  Hundreds of local St. Pete residents filled the stands at Al Lang Field as extras for a scene in which Stewart's character was playing third base when a B-29 flew over. Interesting facts: In real life, Jimmy Stewart was a colonel in the US Air Force Reserve, a higher rank than his movie character (Lieutenant Colonel) and during WWII Stewart earned a Distinguished Service Cross for 20 flights in combat. The last spring training baseball game played at Al Lang Stadium was on March 28, 2008.

Photos of Drs. Ralph Wimbish and Robert Swain at work

Drs. Ralph Wimbish and Robert Swain - Desegregation of Spring Training Housing

Prior to 1961, Drs. Ralph Wimbish and Robert Swain would secure housing for non-white baseball players during spring training in St. Petersburg. But in January 1961, St. Petersburg became a focal point in the battle to end discrimination in the lodging of African American players. Jackie Robinson broke the Major League’s color barrier in 1947 but  African-American players experienced segregation in the south, particularly in housing of training sites throughout Florida. African-American players would stay in homes rather than in hotels with the white players. Doctors Ralph Wimbish and Robert Swain were civil rights leaders who believed that the time had come for all hotels in St. Petersburg and in Florida to desegregate, urging team owners to provide their support in order to stop the ongoing housing discrimination against their teams' African-American players. By 1964, all major league teams in Florida had desegregated their living arrangements. Dr. Swain is pictured above left, and Dr. Wimbish, above right.

A top-down, aerial view of Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field

The original name of Tropicana Field, commonly known as the Trop, was the Florida Suncoast Dome, a $110 million multi-purpose facility constructed by the Bay Plaza Companies. The stadium was named in May 1987 based on a “Name-the-stadium” contest and opened March 3, 1990. It was built to attract a Major League baseball team. Initially, St. Petersburg attempted to lure the Chicago White Sox to the city in the event that Chicago would not build the White Sox a new stadium. Tropicana obtained the naming rights to the domed stadium in 1996. The Tampa Bay Rays’ first season was in 1998 and their first regular season game took place on March 31, 1998, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (later renamed the Rays) faced the Detroit Tigers, losing 11-6. The most recognizable exterior feature of Tropicana Field is the slanted roof.  It was designed at an angle to reduce the interior volume in order to reduce cooling costs, and to better protect the stadium from hurricanes. The first World Series game at Tropicana Field was played on October 22, 2008 between the Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies won the first game 3-2 and went on to win the series four games to one.  

An exterior shot of the Museum of History on a sunny day

St. Petersburg Museum of History

The museum was founded in 1920 as the St. Petersburg Memorial Historical Society.  The city of St. Petersburg granted the organization use of an old aquarium building in 1922 where it is still located at 335 Second Avenue North East. The museum is the oldest in Pinellas County and has a significant collection of over 4,800 autographed baseballs. Dennis Schrader donated his baseball collection to the museum. He started collecting when he was a 9-year old in 1956, at St. Pete’s Al Lang Field, where the Yankees were playing a spring training game. Autographs include Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Cy Young, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

August 8, 2023
Our tagline is “Keep St. Pete Special.” It’s an effective earworm that has seeped into the local discourse. Residents and politicians often repeat variations of this mantra, telling audiences that we “can’t lose sight of what made St. Pete special in the first place.” Indeed, at a forum hosted last year by the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, mayor Ken Welch related the sentiment of one of his constituents who asked him if we’re “maybe loving St. Pete to death.”
Headshot of C. Bette Wimbish
March 8, 2023
The role of women in St. Petersburg's history has often been overshadowed by the men that they worked alongside. But from the very beginning of the Sunshine City, when Sarah Williams played a role in persuading Peter Demens to bring the Orange Belt Railroad to what is today downtown St. Petersburg, instead of what is now modern-day Gulfport, the story of St. Petersburg has been driven in large part by women. Below are just a few of the names you should know.
June 2, 2022
As Preservation Month 2022 comes to a close, we have a lot to look back on! Join us in reviewing all the events we hosted in recent weeks in honor of Preservation Month.