Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg is a monument of baseball history. Originally built in 1947, Al Lang Field replaced Waterfront Park and became the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. In those days, those teams were manned by Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio, respectively. These legends and many, many players since called Al Lang Stadium their spring home.
(For a great video showing the opening season of Al Lang Stadium, click here.)
In 1976, Al Lang Field was renovated to become Al Lang Stadium to fit the then needs of its residents, the Cardinals and the New York Mets. After the Cardinals and Mets left, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays moved in. After the Rays moved spring training to Port Charlotte in 2008, Al Lang was no longer used for professional baseball.
The old stadium was no longer good enough for Major League spring training.
In 2010, I interviewed the President of Minor League Baseball, Pat O’Conner. I asked him about St. Petersburg as a Minor League location. He told me:
St. Petersburg, because of the Rays, it’s not a good Florida State League market. It’s tough enough now competing with Dunedin, Clearwater, Tampa, Sarasota, and Bradenton. You know, the Rays owned the club and decided to sell it and you know it wasn’t a good marketing initiative for them to have it.
So Al Lang Stadium was not a good place for Minor League Baseball either.
From 2008 to 2010, Al Lang Stadium was used by college teams and amateur tournaments. There was even talk the Rays would try to build a Major League ballpark on the location, but that was quickly nixed.
Then in 2011, the Tampa Bay Professional Soccer Club began play at Al Lang Stadium. As the popularity of the Rowdies has grown, so to has their desire to have their own facility, and not share one with baseball. The easiest solution for a permanent Rowdies home is to permanently transform Al Lang Stadium into a soccer pitch, cede control of the facility to the Rowdies, and close the door on ever playing baseball in the old field again.
Yesterday, the City of St. Petersburg moved closer to that option.
According to the Tampa Tribune, Rowdies principal owner Bill Edwards will soon assume control of Al Lang Stadium and convert the field for soccer use. In exchange, Edwards will give up control of the Walter Fuller Complex, and the field there will be used for the amateur baseball games once played at Al Lang.
While there is some legal wrangling that still needs to happen, and the deal could possibly be voted down, the mayor of St Pete and people on the city council have said it would be a good move for the Rowdies and the city.
While sad, baseball stadia do come and go. But unlike other historical parks, Al Lang Stadium will still exist and hopefully the Rowdies will acknowledge the facility’s rich history. But downtown St. Petersburg stopped being a home for Major and Minor League Baseball years ago. With bars such as MacDintons and the gathering of the local Ralph’s Mob, soccer culture is growing in downtown St. Pete.
It is best for the city and the Rowdies to give the soccer team their own home.