Jimmy Buffett brought us Margaritaville. Former MLB Spring Training sites? Let’s call them, Nostalgiaville. Littered
throughout America, particularly in Florida, are former, historic Spring Training venues that have managed to reinvent themselves.
Four are even listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It’s a story of how municipalities have turned
diamonds once roamed by Hall-of-Famers into homes for future MLB stars. So don’t just follow me down memory lane. Take
in an amateur ballgame at one of these ballparks this spring training and see just how far spring training has come in the
last 20 years!
*This article was written in 2013
FORMER FLORIDA GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE SPRING TRAINING SITES
There are so many
former spring training sites scattered across Grapefruit Country, here’s my starting lineup, followed by a few bench
1. Jackie Robinson Stadium (formerly Daytona City Island Ballpark), Daytona
MLB Spring Training tenant and year: Montreal Expos (1980)
Closest distance from current MLB Spring
Training teams: Braves (72 miles); 37 miles from Sanford.
Who primarily plays there now:
NCAA Division I Bethune-Cookman College men’s baseball team and regular season tenant: Daytona Cubs, Florida State League
affiliate of the Cubs.
One of four former spring training ballparks in this list on the U.S. National Register of Historic
Places, this site has the best combination of history and scenery of any in the Sunshine State. Built on City Island in 1915
and overlooking the Intercoastal Waterway, the ballpark is named after the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer. The outside of
the ballpark contains a wealth of historic timelines retracing its history and Robinson’s struggle for equality as MLB’s
first African-American player. On March 17, 1946, Daytona played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement when it allowed the
Brooklyn Dodgers to play an exhibition game at the ballpark against the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers Class A International
league team of which Robinson was a member.
2. Vero Beach Sports Village (formerly known
as Dodgertown/Holman Stadium), Vero Beach
Last MLB spring training tenant and year: Dodgers
Closest distance from current MLB Spring Training teams: Port St. Lucie/Mets (30 miles);
Jupiter/Cardinals and Marlins (60 miles).
Who primarily plays there now: mostly little leagues,
high schools and colleges but teams from South Korea’s pro league have also trained there from mid-January to mid-February.
Catch a game during spring training: Starting in late February, college teams from the Northeast
use the facility for their own spring training games.
Cost to attend: About $5 per day or
$20 for a week’s admission to all games.
No spring training facility will likely even replicate the quaintness, uniqueness and certainly,
the history, of Dodgertown, which was a victim of its sleepy community and the club’s insistence to finally be closer
to its west coast fan base. Opening in 1948, when the Dodgers still played in Brooklyn, Holman Stadium maintains its genuine
charm and it’s also the only ballpark on this list that realistically stands a chance of welcoming Spring Training again
with its modern facilities and pristine grounds. But that’ll probably never happen. Now operated by Minor League Baseball
and today known as Vero Beach Sports Village, the sprawling 67-acre facility will add four new little league regulation fields
this year as it attempts to expand its niche in welcoming amateur teams, from little league tournaments to colleges for spring
training. Former Dodgers Hideo Nomo and Chan Ho-Park are also joining the organization, which could help the facility lure
more teams from Japan and Korea, respectively. The Chinese National team and Italian national team have already trained at
the facility, and because of its sheer size, Vero Beach Sports Village can host other sports as well. An umpire school was
added this year, too.
3. Henley Field, Lakeland
MLB Spring Training tenant and year: Tigers (1965).
distance from current MLB Spring Training teams: Tigers/Lakeland (1.5 miles).
Who primarily plays there now: NCAA Division II power Florida Southern College.
With its original facade still
in order, one look at Henley Field and you can see it reeks with history. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic
Places, the ballpark opened in 1925 and was renovated in 2002. It served as the Tigers original spring training home, starting
back in 1934 (with the exception of war years during World War II). Tiger greats from Hank Greenberg to Al Kaline played here
during training. The Tigers last held spring training at Henley Field in 1965 before moving to their current home, Joker Marchant
Stadium in 1966.
4. Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field, St Petersburg
Last MLB Spring Training tenant and year: Rays (2008).
Closest distance from current MLB Spring Training teams: 20 miles from Tampa/Yankees,
Dunedin/Blue Jays and Phillies/Clearwater.
Who primarily plays there now: colleges
or international teams
Catch a game during spring training: more info
Arguably the most picturesque ballpark in the State of Florida alongside Jackie Robinson Ballpark,
Al Lang Field is tucked along the St. Petersburg bayfront. They’ve been playing baseball on this field since 1926 when
it was known as St. Petersburg Athletic Park. The current ballpark was built in 1947 and then again in 1976. Since 1947, six
different teams have called this place home during spring training, including the Yankees, Giants, Cardinals, Mets, Orioles
and Rays. The ballpark is named after the former mayor St. Petersburg that played an integral role in bringing spring training
to town. On the sidewalks near the ballpark, you’ll find historic timelines to baseball’s rich history in St.
5. Tinker Field, Orlando
Last MLB Spring Training tenant and year: Twins (1990)
distance from current MLB Spring Training teams: 20 miles from the Braves in Kissimmee.
Who primarily plays there now: no one currently.
On the edge of downtown Orlando,
pinned up against the Citrus Bowl football stadium and listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Tinker Field
is the oldest ballpark still standing in the State of Florida, besting out Jackie Robinson Ballpark by just one year. The
ballpark is named after Hall-of-Fame shortstop Joe Tinker, who helped the Cubs win World Series titles in 1907 and 1908. After
his playing days were over, Tinker ran the Orlando Gulls of the Florida State League and later died in Orlando. This site
boasted one of the longest tenures of a spring training venue in Florida, hosting the Reds (1923-1933) and Dodgers (1934-1935)
before the Washington Senators took over in 1936 and their reign continued uninterrupted through the franchise’s relocation
to Minneapolis (excluding the war years, 1943-1945). The Twins finally left in 1990 but not before the likes of Hall-of-Famers
Rod Carew, Harem Killebrew, Bert Blyleven and Kirby Puckett, among others, called it home.
Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford
Last MLB spring training tenant and year:
Giants minor leaguers (1958).
Closest distance from current MLB Spring
Training teams: Braves (40 miles); 37 miles from Daytona (home of Jackie Robinson Ballpark).
Who plays there now: amateurs.
This ballpark hosted Giants
minor leaguers for spring training from 1951-1958 before the organization moved all of its operations to Arizona. A short
walk just south of the current site stood old Sanford Field, which hosted Casey Stengel’s Boston Braves for spring training
in 1942. But that site and this city is most known for what happened four years later in 1946. Jackie Robinson was pulled
from a spring training game after two innings because the city’s police chief threatened to arrest his manager if he
failed to do so – all because Robinson was black. Robinson was removed from the game and left the ballpark.
Chain Of Lakes Park, Winter Haven
Last MLB Spring
Training tenant and year: Indians (2008)
Closest distance from
current MLB Spring Training teams: 17 miles from the Tigers in Lakeland.
Who primarily plays there now: college tournaments.
Catch a game during spring training: Until Mar.
$5/day; $20 week; $30/season pass
you want to see Chain Of Lakes Park before it meets the wrecking ball, you’d better hurry. This historic site, which
hosted the Red Sox for spring training from 1966-1992 and the Indians from 1993-2008 is probably destined for demolition someday.
8. Terry Park, Fort Myers
Last MLB Spring Training tenant and year: Royals (1987).
distance from current MLB Spring Training teams: 10 miles from Twins
and 15 miles from Red Sox, both at separate sites in Fort Myers.
primarily plays there now: amateur teams.
Catch a game:
22nd Annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic.
Although it hasn’t hosted spring training in 25 years,
Terry Park hasn’t stopped attracting collegiate teams to its sparkling grounds. Listed on the U.S. National Register
of Historic Places, Terry Park never seems to stop reinventing itself as it open new chapters. Opening in 1925, and rebuilt
in 1955, it took a whooping following a hurricane in 2004 but has since rebounded.
Cocoa Expo Sports Center, Cocoa
Last MLB Spring
Training tenant and year: 1993 (Marlins).
from current MLB Spring Training teams: 12 miles from the Nationals in Viera.
Who primarily plays there now: high school teams.
Catch a game during spring
training: a plethora of high school and college practices and scrimmages take place.
Cost: $5 for an all day pass.
This facility hosted the expansion Marlins for spring training in 1993 before
the Fish moved south to Space Coast Stadium in 1994. Previously, Cocoa Expo was the home of the Astros spring training from
1964-1984. Hall-of-Famers Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan, among others trained here.
10. Jack Russell Stadium, Clearwater
MLB Spring Training tenant and year: Phillies (2003).
distance from current MLB Spring Training teams: Just over four miles from the Phillies current spring training
site in Clearwater.
Who primarily plays there now: high
schools and colleges.
Truth by told, Jack Russell Stadium is not so much “a stadium” anymore as its grandstand
was torn down. Aluminum seating was installed, however, for 2,500 fans and the original playing surface remains. This was
the Phillies spring home from 1995-2003.
* La Ley Sports Complex (formerly Homestead Sports Complex), Homestead
Unusual MLB Spring Training history: The Indians
were scheduled to open this ballpark in 1993, but Hurricane Andrew destroyed it in August 1992. Even though it was rebuilt,
the Indians never came and neither has a permanent MLB team for spring training.
distance from current MLB Spring Training teams: 116 miles from the Cardinals and Marlins in Jupiter.
Who primarily plays there now: youth baseball league, courtesy of La Ley Sports.
Unlike the other facilities mentioned above, this one never
got off the grounds, thanks largely to Mother Nature. And what great irony too with the name, for the City of Homestead never
got to be a home stead of an MLB team. You can blame Mother Nature for that. The Indians had planned to christen this new
facility 30 miles south of downtown Miami in the spring of 1993 but Hurricane Andrew had other plans. In August 1992, Andrew
pummeled South Florida, including the new facility. Although was ballpark was rebuilt by 1994, the Tribe needed a place to
play for spring training in 1993 and moved to Winter Haven and stayed there instead. Homestead has remained homeless of an
MLB team and probably always will even though La Ley Sports has put $1.4 in renovations into the 7,000-seat stadium and the
surrounding fields. Had Hurricane Andrew not come ashore, one wonders if the landscape of Spring Training in South Florida
might be much different today. These days the closest team to downtown Miami is now more than an hour away by car. But back
in 1990, Miami had four teams within an hours’ drive, with the Orioles training at since demolished Miami Stadium; the
Yankees at Fort Lauderdale Stadium; and the Expos and Braves in West Palm Beach. Although the Indians only had a two-year
contract with Homestead, had they stayed, it is possible that new facilities that were built years later further north in
Jupiter and Orlando might have been built closer to Miami. We’ll never know.
Other former Grapefruit League ballparks of note: Elton John would be
so proud even more spring training parks from yesteryear are still standing…During the month of March, Minnesota Twins
minor leaguers are going to use the City of Palms Park in Fort Myers for some practices. City of Palms Park last hosted the
Red Sox in 2011. USA Baseball, Perfect Game USA and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) have also used the site…The Red
Sox former practice complex has hosted the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic…Pat Thomas Stadium in Leesburg, 45 miles north
of Orlando, is still used today by amateur teams. Built in 1937, it previously hosted the Phillies for minor league spring
training…Plant City Stadium, which also last hosted spring training in 1997 (Reds), also hosts baseball…Fort
Lauderdale Stadium, which lasted hosted the Orioles in 2009, is now mostly used by soccer and lacrosse teams. Met the Wrecking
Ball: Municipal Stadium (West Palm Beach) and Baseball City Stadium (Davenport) have been torn down since MLB teams left for
spring training in 1997. Pompano Beach Municipal Stadium (Rangers spring training, 1972-1986) was demolished in 2008 and Miami
Stadium (Orioles spring training site, 1959-1990) met the wrecking ball in 2001.
FORMER ARIZONA (AND CALIFORNIA) CACTUS LEAGUE SPRING TRAINING SITES
The Grand Canyon State
only has a few former Spring Training sites still standing.
1. Gene Autry Baseball Complex, Mesa
MLB spring training tenant and year: Angels (2006).
Who primarily plays there now: Arizona
State men’s “club” baseball team (not to be confused with the NCAA Division I men’s baseball team
that competes in the Pac-12 Conference); club team's schedule online
This is the only former Cactus League site in the Phoenix metro area and it
was mostly used for MLB practice by “Gene Autry’s Angels,” the former owner of the team. But minor league
spring training games did take place here before the Angels current spring training complex, Tempe Diablo Stadium, was expanded
to accommodate the Angels minor league teams as well as the MLB club. If you’re over in Mesa to check out the Cubs,
might as well stop by and make Ernie Banks proud and “play two.”
2. Hi Corbett Field, Tucson
Last MLB spring training tenant and year: Rockies (2010)
Who primarily plays there
now: NCAA University of Arizona men’s baseball team; UA schedule online
The oldest ballpark in the State of Arizona, Tucson is a two hour drive
south of Phoenix. I never cared for this place, so I don’t miss it, but others may disagree.
3. Kino Sports
Complex (formerly Tucson Electric Park), Tucson
Last MLB spring training tenant and year:
Who primarily plays there now: University of Arizona men’s “club”
baseball team (not to be confused with the NCAA Division I men’s baseball team that competes in the Pac-12 Conference); club team schedule online
Still hard to believe how quickly this facility fell off its pedestal. Built in 1998 with a great view of the
Catalina Mountains, this ballpark – like Hi Corbett – was simply a victim of its location. The White Sox left
this dual-use facility after 2008 spring training to move closer to all the other teams in Phoenix; ditto for the D-Backs
two years later. I always liked this ballpark and was sad to see it get "bulldozed" by MLB.
Sun Stadium, Yuma
Last MLB spring training tenant and year: Padres (1993).
primarily plays there now: Yuma Criminals (no, that’s not a misprint), a high school team and, depending on
their financial standing, an independent league team; Criminals schedule online
Other former Arizona Cactus League facilities of note: You can still make out Compadre Stadium,
1425 W. Ocotillo Rd., Chandler, AZ, in suburban Phoenix, which was built below street level. But it hasn’t hosted baseball
since the Brewers left after 1997 spring training. The main concourse now serves as offices while the field remains in decrepit,
unplayable condition. The Francisco Grande Hotel and Resort in Casa Grande, 50 miles south of Phoenix, briefly hosted the
Giants in the early 1960s and the Angels in the early 1980s but all that remains in a watching stand (where coaches look down
on practice fields below). The parking lot is still laid out like a catcher’s mitt and the pool somewhat still resembles
a baseball bat, click here for some history.
Former California Spring Training sites: Brookside Park in Pasadena hosted the White Sox for spring
training in 1938. Today it’s known as Jackie Robinson Memorial Field and Pasadena City College (formerly Pasadena Junior
College) plays there. Robinson played at Pasadena Junior College in 1938 and 1939 before transferring to UCLA. According to
the Pasadena library, Robinson and a local team actually played the White Sox in a game…The Cubs trained at Blair Field
in Long Beach 1966. The field is today used by Division I Long Beach State…The Cubs trained on Catalina Island from
1921-1941 and from 1946-1951. All that remains is a plaque noting the location: the Catalina Island County Club in Avalon.
The clubhouse at the country club, however, is the same one former Cubs owner William Wrigley, Jr. built for the Cubs…La
Palma Park in Anaheim hosted the A’s (then based in Philadelphia) from 1939-1941. Today, it’s used by local high
school teams… The Pittsburgh Pirates spent their last season at Fiscalini Field in San Bernardino in 1952. Today the
site is primarily used by Cal State-San Bernardino…Palm Springs Stadium in California, which last hosted spring training
in 1992, is now used for a summer league collegiate baseball team. Palm Springs is a four hour drive east of Phoenix.