Waterfront Park/Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Florida

January 17th, 2014
by Byron Bennett

Professional baseball first came to St. Petersburg, Florida, as early as 1908 when the then- independent St. Paul Saints played an exhibition game against the National League Cincinnati Reds. In 1914, businessman and future mayor Al Lang convinced the St. Louis Browns to come to St. Petersburg and train at Sunshine Park – also known as Coffee Pot Park because of its location near Coffee Pot Bayou in St. Petersburg. The Browns stayed in St. Petersburg only one season. From 1915 through 1918, the Philadelphia Phillies trained at Coffee Pot Park.

Postcard of Waterfront Park, St., Petersburg,Florida (Pub. By Gulf Coast Card Co., St. Petersburg, FL, C.T. Art Colortone, Curt Teich, Chicago IL

In 1922, a new ballpark opened along the shoreline of Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg on a patch of land that was part of the city’s mile-long Waterfront Park. The ball field, also known as Waterfront Park, was located at the intersection of 1st Avenue S.E. and First Street S.E. It was the spring training grounds of the Boston Braves beginning in 1922.

Postcard of Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg, Florida (Pub. By Hartman Card Co, Pinella FL)

In 1925, the New York Yankees began training in St. Petersburg at nearby Crescent Lake Park, while playing some of their games at Waterfront Park. The Braves departed St. Petersburg after the 1937 season and the St. Louis Cardinals moved to Waterfront Park in 1938, sharing the facility with the Yankees for Spring Training games.

Al Lang Field Postcard, St. Petersburg, Florida (Pub. By Sun News Co. St. Petersburg FL, Cureich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone)

In 1947, Waterfront Park was demolished and replaced by Al  Lang Field, named in honor  of the man who helped establish St. Petersburg  as a spring training mecca. Al Lang Field was constructed on land one block south of  the northern most point of Waterfront Park.

Entrance to Al Lang Field (Detail of Postcard Pub. By Sun News Co., St. Petersburg FL, Curteich Chicago, C.T. Art Colortone)

Thus, the grandstand at Al Lang Field was built on top of Waterfront Park’s former infield.

Al Lang Field Postcard (Pub. By Sun News Co., St. Petersburg FL, Curteich Chicago, C.T. Art Colortone)

The exact location of Waterfront Park in relation to Al Lang Field is evident by comparing the two ballparks as they appear below in the two aerial postcards of Waterfront Park and Al Lang Field.

Waterfront Park:

Aerial Postcard of Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg, Florida circa 1932 (Pub. By Hartman Card Co., Tampa, FL)

Al Lang Field:

Aerial Postcard of Al Lang Field (Pub. By Hartman Litho Sales, Largo FL, Photo by St. Petersburg News Service)

As can be seen from the above two postcards and the postcard below, a parking lot for Al Lang Field was constructed where Waterfront Park’s grandstand once stood. In the city block just north of the parking lot is Pioneer Park, which honors St. Petersburg’s earliest settlers.

Al Lang Field Postcard (Pub. By Sun News Co. St. Petersburg FL, Cureich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone)

In 1977, Al Lang Field was demolished and replaced by Al Lang Stadium, a concrete structure with little of the charm offered baseball fans at Al Lang Field and Waterfront Park.

View of Progress Energy Park Taken from Former Site of Waterfront Park Third Base Grandstand

In 1998, the naming rights to Al Lang Stadium were sold and the stadium was renamed Florida Power Park. It later was renamed Progress Energy Park in 2003.  The stadium complex currently is known as Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park.

Plaque Honoring Former St. Petersburg Mayor Al Lang

The Yankees departed Al Lang Field for Fort Lauderdale after the 1960 Spring Training season and the Cardinals departed for Palm Beach after the 1997 season.

Dedication Plaque Al Lang Stadium, 1977

Other professional teams that once called the ballpark home were the New York Giants (1951), the New York Mets (1962-1987), and the Baltimore Orioles (1992-1995).

Ramp to Concourse from Gate 2, Progress Energy Park

In 1998, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays took over the ballpark.

Tampa Bay Rays Souvenir Stand, Progress Energy Park

The Devil Rays, a 1998 MLB expansion team, played their regular season  games at  the Tropicana Dome, located less than two miles west  of Progress Energy Park.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida

Although the concrete structure of the stadium itself leaves much to be desired, the setting at Progress Energy Park was one of the most beautiful of all spring training venues, current or former.

Progress Energy Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The view of the playing field, with Tampa Bay as a back drop,wais breathtaking.

Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

Beginning in 2005, the Tampa Bay Rays began a campaign to build a new major league ballpark on the site of Progress Energy Field. However, those plans met public opposition and quietly were withdrawn in 2009.

Artist Rendering of Proposed Ballpark on the Grounds of Progress Energy Field, to Replace Tropicana Field

The Rays trained at Progress Energy Park through the 2008 season.

Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

In 2009 the Rays moved to a new ballpark in Port Charlotte, Florida, 80 miles south.

Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, Florida

Charlotte Sports Park previously had been the home Spring Training home for the Texas Rangers. The park was renovated prior to the Rays arrival in 2009.

Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Coaches at Progress Energy Park in 2008

The facade of Progress Energy Park includes a series of  plaques which in 1998 had been part of the “Jim Healey and Jack Lake Baseball Boulevard.” The 85 brass home plate plaques that made up the Baseball Boulevard told the story of Major League baseball St. Petersburg.

Facade of Progress Energy Park Circa 2012

One of the plaques honors the opening of Waterfront Park in 1922. However, the plaque states, incorrectly, that Waterfront Park was located on land that later became Bayfront Center, an indoor sports arena built in 1965 and demolished in 2004. The former site of Bayfront Center is now the Salvador Dali Museum, which is located south of Progress Energy Field on Bay Shore Drive.

Plaque at Progress Energy Park Honoring Waterfront Park

Progress Energy Park is still used to today, mainly for minor league soccer and music concerts. Although St. Petersburg residents appear to favor keeping the site a public park, it seems only a matter of time before the stadium itself is demolished. Hopefully, the historic field will be maintained, for it represents over 90 years of baseball spring training history.

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