Even though the Tampa Bay Rays are the youngest franchise in Major League Baseball, Tampa’s baseball roots have a long and storied history.
In 1913, the Chicago Cubs moved their baseball team to St. Petersburg for spring training. And since then, St. Pete has become the most common spring training spot for the entire league leading with 10 teams that have played in the area over the last 100 years.
With year-round temperatures never reaching the chill of other states, the Tampa Bay area has been truly important for baseball’s growth and opportunity for many years.
Yet, it goes much further than our ideal weather. The Tampa Bay area has produced extraordinary talent over the years, such as the great Chicago White Sox manager, Al Lopez.
He was the first area native to play and manage in the major leagues and the first to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, who came out of the leagues of Ybor City in the early 20th century.
Since then, many current and former major league players and managers such as Lou Piniella, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Tino Martinez, Dwight Gooden, Tony La Russa and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs have gotten their start on local tampa area diamonds.
Sheffield and Gooden attended Hillsborough high school while Martinez, Mcgriff, and La Russa played at local area rival Jefferson high school.
The Little League years are the crucial time to mold and groom young grass pickers into home run professionals. Little League also prepares them for the bigger games on the high school level.
It is different in a sport like football, where a college basketball player who has freakish size and speed can pick up the game and become a tight end in the National Football League, such as Antonio Gates. Tampa’s regional programs and coaching is the reason for the constant success.
“There is an expectation to do well and the players feed into that,” said Ty Griffin, the head coach of the Tampa Catholic High School baseball team. “They also have the ability to play against very good competition from little league to high school.”
The locals of Seminole Heights embrace baseball as a lifestyle and not just as a sport. Let’s face it, baseball is called America’s pastime, but certainly not the favorite sport of our generation.
So seeing the love and passion for the game in this region is certainly refreshing. One fan, Aracely O’Dell, who spent countless hours watching her little brother play all the way from little league to the starting second baseman for Tampa Catholic High School said, “You wouldn’t believe the people that would show up, every seat was packed every single night.”
She went on saying they even had more fans at their baseball games than football games. That is not usually something you would expect in a southern state.
“Weather, passion from the community, family atmosphere, competitiveness, great athletes who were multi- sport stars are all a winning formula for success,” said Coach Griffin.
Of course, being able to play year-round is a benefit players have living in Florida.
That is at least five more months than any player from a Northern state has to practice and prepare for the season. But it is much more than that. This region expects excellence, and expects their best talent to make it to the top.
James Belluscio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marcus Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com