"People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." — Rogers Hornsby
Florida's welcoming arms have always been home to baseball greats like Hornsby and a parade of others simply trying to hang on for another day.
Small communities throughout Florida have been home to spring training since the early 1900s, fostering hopes for players and fans.
That hope still resonates. The quaint innocence doesn't. The cozy confines of Dodgertown and other spring training ballparks have been overrun by modern megaplexes. Teams have cut deals and bolted to Arizona. Parks have been shuttered, bulldozed and ignored.
But now is not the time to bemoan Florida's loss. It's a time to look back and celebrate the splendor of spring training.
Sentinel columnist George Diaz and photographer Gary W. Green recently took a road trip through Florida, going back to some of those forgotten places. They asked a few people familiar with those spots to come along to share their memories. From Easter eggs in Winter Haven to Ted Williams fishing in Sarasota to lions and tigers on the fields of Orlando, there's a precious memory at every turn.
Tinker Field, Orlando: From Babe to Bush, Tinker's history runs deep
YEARS OF OPERATION: 1914-present.
TEAMS: Reds (1923-33), Dodgers (1934-35), Senators (1936-42, 1946-60), Twins (1961-90).
NOTEWORTHY: Jackie Robinson makes his first visit to Orlando in 1946 before an overflow crowd estimated at 10,000.
Al Lang Field, St. Petersburg: A young man intent on making his own history
YEARS OF OPERATION: 1947-present.
TEAMS: Yankees (1947-50, 1952-61), Giants (1951), Cardinals (1947-97), Mets (1962-87), Orioles (1991-95), Devil Rays/Rays (1998-2008).
NOTEWORTHY: Officially called Progress Energy Park, Home of Al Lang Field since 2003, the current site was known originally as St. Petersburg Athletic Park, which was the spring home base for the Boston Braves and New York Yankees from 1923 until after World War II.
Chain O' Lakes Park, Winter Haven: Chain O' Lakes: A place for easter eggs and dreams of opportunity
YEARS OF OPERATION: 1966-present.
TEAMS: Red Sox (1966-92), Indians (1993-2008).
NOTEWORTHY: The concession concourse was famous for its funnel cake stand.
Holman Stadium, Vero Beach: Dodgertown is spring's timeless treasure
YEARS OF OPERATION: 1949-present.
TEAMS: Dodgers (1949-2008).
NOTEWORTHY: There was no outfield wall until 1971, when a chain-link fence was added after Philadelphia's Richie Allen ran into a palm tree.
Payne Park, Sarasota: Nothing but pleasant memories of Payne
YEARS OF OPERATION: 1924-1988
TEAMS: Giants (1924-27), Red Sox (1933-58), Dodgers (1959), White Sox (1960-88).
NOTEWORTHY: John McGraw, owner of the New York Giants, was persuaded by one of his good friends to bring his team to Sarasota for spring training. The friend was John Ringling, of circus fame.
SPRING TRAINING: Ghost stories abound
- Spring training memories: From Babe to Bush, Tinker's history runs deep
- Ghosts of Spring Baseball: Dodgertown
- Spring training memories: Chain O'Lakes is a place for Easter eggs and dreams of opportunity
- Ghosts of Spring Baseball: Al Lang Field
- Pictures: Ghosts of Spring Baseball: Tinker Field
- Ghosts of Spring Baseball: Payne Park
- Spring Training
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