Repost: Rays Last Spring Game in St. Petersburg
This blog was originally written on March 28, 2008 to celebrate and commemorate the last home game of the Tampa Bay Rays at their Spring Training home for the last 11 years. This day marked the last time the Rays would play as a team at the site, and would move to the new sparkling complex in Port Charlotte in 2009. The writing style and the photos are also a sign of the changes made in the last year to my blog and the way I convey my blogs to you. So I hope you enjoy this “Blast of the past” that is a special part of the Rays history.
I am filled with both sadness and excitement on this perfect day for
baseball. I am about to see the end of an era in my hometown of St. Petersburg,
Florida. The local baseball faithful here in St. Pete., have been actively watching
and participating in M L B Spring Training games for over 80 odd years. And it all
comes to an end today. Our hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays, will be training at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida starting next season.
It is sad because my grandfather,who lived within a stones throw of former
Yankees’ training site, Huggins-Stengel Field, and spent many a day at the old
Busch complex off 62nd Ave. He spent many an afternoon near Cresent Lake watching Spring Training games
both there and at Waterfront Park. That my dad, who loved the game of baseball, and counted a few MLB players
as friends could not say a fond farewell to this stadium that he saw built and
watched hundreds of games there from 1947-1976.
Being a third generation baseball fan is a huge responsibility to me. It
involves my commitment, loyalty and a sense of knowing the sky will not fall
for my team. The ending of the era at Al F. Lang Field/Progress Energy
Park/Waterfront Park is special to me.
Special because I spent a lot of my youth here in the Spring and Summers.
Both watching MLB and Minor League teams leave it all out on the dirt and grass.
Watching the St. Petersburg Devilrays win a championship, and the hometown M L B
squad wrestle for wins. Special because my old job with Pepsi Cola had me at the Training complex and
at Al Lang almost every day in the Spring furnishing them with product and
watching some of these players’ develop into stars. I would be on the phone
daily getting orders and securing the items for the team and its clubhouses,
both at the Ray Namoli Spring Training complex, Progress Energy Field/Al Lang Field, or Tropicana Field, just a few miles to the west of the stadium.
I have pushed,pulled and sweated in these clubhouses’, under
the grandstands, and in the dark recesses of Tropicana Field. I loved
working with the Rays’ and I consider them very special people in my
life. They have bestowed on me a place in their Wall of Fame for my
loyalty, and I have received numerous phone calls and smiles from the
Executive and Front Office staff when we see each other outside of the
stadium. I also hold dear a million memories that would fill a Myspace
server. From winning players “Jersey’s off their backs”, to winning
roundtrip airfare to Seattle for a 4 game roadtrip.
But back to today’s final game.
It had all the fanfare and tradition of an Opening Day. You had the local
political forces out. Both teams’ starting players were announced and stood on
their respective foul line before a barbershop quartet sang the National
Anthem. It was pomp and circumstance at it’s best.
An anticipated event that did not happen today is that Hall of Famer, Monte
Irvin was not able to attend the game. He is a proud supporter of the Rays’ ,
the fans missed a rare opportunity to talk and get autographs from this great
former player. I send personal best wishes and hope for a speedy recovery to Monte, and
hope to see him at the Home Opener this year. Another item I picked up on the sly was the fact that there were no special
collectibles or items listing the “last game” on them for sale in the entire
stadium. I thought the Rays’ missed a monetary gold mine here. But was informed
that the Rays’ wanted to pursue this angle, but M L B vetoed the idea. They might
be afraid of a future conflict if a team ever trained here again. I can see
their point, but this stadium might be gone by that time.
You see, the Rays’ had a spot out in Right Center that was the spot for the
new proposed stadium’s home plate. The Rays hope that the city’s faithful voters decide in a November
referendum to change the zoning for the area, or sell the stadium land to the
county for future ballpark considerations. Most of this is up in the air right now, but the Rays’ new complex is already
being constructed, and there is no turning back at this time.
They were treated to a great contest featuring three bunts for singles, a
ground rule double over the Left Center field wall. A long towering homer, and a
odd play in Right Center by B J Upton and Eric Hinske. It saw Rays catcher Dioner
Navarro go 2-for3 with a perfect bunt single and a crushing hit to Left field. It
saw Carl Crawford hit two doubles, and Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips hit a
triple. It was great contest no matter what the score. Of course, we know that
the Rays did not win today, but it was a thrill just to be there on this
After the game, the Rays treated the fans to a hot dog,chips and soda
extravaganza in the Right field corner of the field. It was a time for the kids
to “run the bases”, for the all fans to toss a few balls around like the pros’,
and a time for all to celebrate this Spring’s great record and team. It is also
a time to recharge the batteries for the upcoming season. It was a great event,
and one that should be a yearly event, even in Port Charlotte next year.
I can not end this blog without a few pictures of Carlos Pena. My other half
is a true Carlos mark and she should get some good pictures of her guy in
action. So, here are a few for your enjoyment:
In honor of the last game at Al Lang today, I am going to leave you two
Trivia questions. Please fell free to answer them in comments and I will let you
know if you are right, or might offer a few hints. Good Luck
1,) In 1947, who hit the first Home Run in newly constructed Al F. Lang
2.) Who made the last out in today’s game?
Photo Credits: All Photos RRCollections