Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
A Haunting Good Time
People have always questioned if there is something after this life. If there is an existence that follows between this physical life, and an afterlife or even a possible state of timeless limbo before we might finally be transported to another realm. It is one of those cosmic questions that each of us seek the answer to at some point in our lives. Each of us play and weigh the realities and possibilities within our own intelligence to hopefully come up with our own reality limits and beliefs.
With All Hallow’s Eve beginning in several hours, I thought it might be a bit interesting tonight to dig into the history and possible presence within my little township of St. Petersburg, Florida to bring out a few examples of paranormal or odd baseball-related coincidences within the city limits of a town where baseball might be played all year long, even beyond the human sightlines. With a city like this so rich in baseball lore, maybe you want to believe it is happening.. or maybe you have seen it yourself?
There are several sites I could bring into this discussion tonight from the downtown waterfront Ponce De Leon Hotel penthouse suites where New York Yankee legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig spent their time in this small hamlet while Spring Training with the Bronx Bombers. Where tales of the heavy footsteps and loud chuckles when no one is in the rooms with you echo at night. The smell of cigarette and smoke clouds when no one is on the porches or verandas during the early evenings.
Or maybe there is an unforeseen baseball tourney going on just down the street in a small neighborhood park just off 13th Avenue North along side a quaint city park that used to house a single field that used to be used by the Yankees and several other teams that have trained in this city in the past.
That to this day city employees still think the small baseball complex is still visited by unknown guests, possibly by Ruth and the Yankee Clipper, Joe Di Maggio. Where the smell of cherry scented cigars, a favorite of former Yankee Manager Miller Huggins s till permeates the early morning air as employees enter the locked building for a new days work.
That Huggins-Stengel Field, which is now the home turf of the St. Pete High School Green Devils baseball team might not be the only team taking batting practice and infield. Also watching might be a lone apparition sitting in a dugout just as he did with his Yankee players so long ago. Could former Yankee Manager Casey Stengel also be spending some of his afterlife viewing the game he loved, or still commanding his troops on the field during the eerie cloak of darkness?
Or could the Rays actually be getting some unseen help by the paranormal as visiting teams stay in a local hotel steeped in ghost tales even before the Rays existence in 1998. Most people outside of St. Petersburg would not remember the tales of the old Vinoy Hotel during its derelict days as vandals, the homeless and countless other unseen residents of the once swank hotel walked through its dilapidated halls and rooms after first closing its doors to the public in 1974.
But then another coat of glowing pink coral paint was applied to the hotel in the 1990’s as the discarded hotel property was purchased and restored to its old former glory as the Renaissance Vinoy Resort. And the swank hotel then became the hub for visiting Major League Baseball teams who came to play the hometown Rays, and were met by more than a few fans from beyond the baseball realms.
Since that time, visiting team players and Rays players experienced unusual events and happenings in their stays at the hotel, with a few players even balking at returning to their rooms at the 5-star resort .
My favorite visiting player event happened to former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons who rushed up to his room on the fith floor in the old section of the Vinoy hotel to catch an early night’s rest. Before he hit the sheets for the night, Gibbons set the alarm clock by the edge of his bed and went into the bathroom to wash up and get ready for his nightly sleep.
As Gibbons returned to the bed, he noticed the alarm clock, which he had previously set was now off. He immediately sat up to reset the clock and noticed that the power cord was draped over the clock . The electric plug was located near the floor area of the room and behind the nightstand. Gibbons ended up sleeping with the lights on that night.
But he wasn’t the only visiting player to get a rough night’s sleep from the Vinoy’s unseen staff. Former Toronto Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston also had an event where his hotel room door, which was previously locked by him kept unlocking and swinging open during the course of the night.
I could fill a book with the names and events by countless players and staffers that have had the paranormal “touch” them by events in this hotel. Here is another one. Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts even had his own experience after he put some freshly dry cleaned clothes in the room’s closet and closed the closet door only to find those same clothes out of their plastic wrappings on his bed when he returned to the room. Could a courteous transparent chambermaid put out Robert’s clothes for the evening?
My favorite event actually involves a old Rays Bullpen player. Jon Switzer was a old left-handed reliever for the Rays who had his first brush with the presences at the Vinoy when he was first called up to the majors by the Rays.
Switzer and his wife stayed at the Vinoy on the fifth floor of the older section of the hotel and were both awoken by a scratching sound that seemed to be coming from within the walls behind their bed’s large headboard. The sound persisted for 15 minutes then disappeared, but returned later that evening even loud enough to awaken have have both of them bolt upright and turn on the night light to investigate the room.
It was at this time that the room’s presence quickly made itself known to both Switzer and his wife as they both viewed the painting above their bed seem to come to life. The painting was of a woman in a Victorian outfit with a basket of flowers in his right hand. The picture, which originally had flowers in the woman’s left hand was now showed the woman’s left hand scratching at the glass as if to find a way out of the enclosed glass. The couple stared in disbelief at the picture for several moments before finally bolting out of the room.
The stories about the Vinoy are so widespread among baseball players that when the Toronto Blue Jays once pulled up to the resort for an upcoming series against the Rays, ex-Blue Jay outfielder Jose Cruz Jr once got on the charter bus P A system and told the players, “Hopefully you guys got sleeping pills because this hotel is haunted.”
Most people seem to have forgetten about this hotel’s sordid past. That during World War II, the hotel was been used as a military rehabilitation hospital where many soliders checked in, but not all took a final journey out of its doors on their feet. Death and suffering has lingered among these hotelhalls and rooms for a long time.
Combined with the years of neglect and decay following its closure for 20-odd years, residual energy seemd to have been stored among the pink coral and ornately carved wooden moldings. Countless unnerving events have been documented by other hotel guests besides the visiting baseball players. Unconfirmed deaths among the hotels while is disrepair, including a homeless person who supposedly drowned in a water-filled elevator shaft after falling and breaking his neck only help to fuel the legends.
Whether you believe or not, these events did happen and are happening today.
How many of you remember the photo I took this January of a pre-dawn Progress Energy/ Al Lang Field where an out of the ordinary blue hue interrupts the most darkened green background of the grandstands. I am of the belief that even if you do not actively believe or even acknowledge the existence of these events you have to respect the intentions that the past can be relived over and over again.
And on a night that will come in a few hours where the macabre and the unknown are to rule the activities, isn’t it at least wise to not taunt or treat them with disrespect…even in a small hamlet like St. Petersburg?
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