April 1, 2002
Since World War I, Florida in March has meant Major League Baseball spring training – the "Grapefruit League". Two Florida localities, Tampa Bay and greater Miami, now boast Major League teams of their own, playing during the six-month regular year. However, both of these clubs train in tiny outdoor parks like their brethren, preserving the pleasant tradition of (mostly) day games before small crowds. The atmosphere is distinctly minor league – the summertime role of many Grapefruit League stadiums — mixed with spring break high spirits. It is a rite of passage for many baseball fans/grandparents who introduce their children/grandchild to this all-American past time.
Four Tampa Bay venues present exhibition games throughout the month of March, following several weeks of practices (free and open to the public). The Tampa Bay Devil Rays of the American League play on the St. Petersburg waterfront at Florida Power Park, the 1970s successor to an older facility once used by Babe Ruth’s Yankees. About 5,000 fans pay $4 to $15 to watch baseball hopefuls in the foreground and sailboats beyond the leftfield fence. Less than two miles away looms Tropicana Field, the distinctly un-atmospheric dome where the Devil Rays play regular-season games from April to September, charging five times as much for most tickets.
The Toronto Blue Jays, before occupying their futuristic Sky Dome, play spring games in newly-renovated Dunedin Stadium. The audience, many of whom are Canadian "snowbirds" wintering in Florida, pays $12.50 to $15 for reserved seating.
The Philadelphia Phillies, whose regular home, Veterans Stadium, is a dreary 1970s relic, host Grapefruit League contests in Clearwater at Jack Russell Stadium, one of the older springtime parks. Like Dunedin and Tampa, Clearwater’s major leaguers are followed during the summer by Class A minor leaguers under contract to the same organizations. Phillie fans pay $11 to $15 to watch major league exhibitions.
The World Series champs New York Yankees have a long attachment to Florida. From the 1920s to 1960s they trained in St. Petersburg. After some years in Ft. Lauderdale, the Bronx Bombers are back! The Yankees’ modestly-named Legends Field is a small-scale replica of Yankee Stadium, surely the most unusual stadium in the spring training state. Like the Devil Rays’ Vince Naimoli, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner is a resident of Tampa. The team’s spring fans pay $10 to $16 for reserved seating, far less than during regular season games in the Big Apple.
From journal Tampa Bay Treasures