Spring Training Turns 100

Spring Training Turns 100

Prohibition was taking hold, the Great War was in the offing and Spring training began with the first major-league exhibition on February 26, 1914 at Tampa’s Plant Field (on the grounds of what is now the University of Tampa) then again — after crossing Tampa Bay by steamship — the next day in St. Petersburg, at a park on Coffee Pot Bayou. The Cubs won both 3-2.  Pictured famed NY Yankee Lou Gehrig in 1937.

Lured to Tampa by Mayor D.B. McKay’s promise to cover the team’s expenses up to $100 per player, the Cubs began workouts at Plant Field. At the same time, St. Petersburg, and businessman, Al Lang, persuaded Branch Rickey, the fledgling manager of the cellar-dwelling St. Louis Browns, to bring his team to St. Petersburg. By the spring of 1914, the Sunshine State had the makings of a rudimentary league with the Cubs in Tampa, the St. Louis Browns in St. Petersburg, the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Augustine and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in Jacksonville.

The Florida cities with the most years of spring training are St. Petersburg and Tampa (87 years), Bradenton and Clearwater (76 years), Lakeland (75 years), Sarasota (74 years), Fort Myers (64 years), West Palm Beach (63 years), Orlando (62 years), Vero Beach (58 years) and Winter Haven (55 years).

Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig and the Yankees playing the Boston Bees in St. Petersburg

Florida Avenue – Old Dixie Highway

Florida Avenue

In 1920, Florida had a population of 968,470 people. Just five years later, the population had grown to 1,263,540. For the first time Americans had the time and money to travel to Florida to invest in real estate. For the educated and skilled working American, the 1920’s meant paid vacations, pensions, and fringe benefits unheard of during the Victorian Era. The United States also had the automobile and “tin-canners” clubs, named for the heavy metal cans which tourists carried for extra gasoline and water. On Nebraska Avenue not far from Erehwon Retreat we can still see a property built for TCT’s as well as a few properties where small cabins were built for the Roaring Twenties tourists. This influx of motorized tourism convinced leaders that new roads were needed. 

N Florida Ave. 1925 (2 yrs before Water Tower)Florida Avenue approaching Sulpher Springs 1920.

An unusually cold winter in 1925 followed by an extremely hot summer cast doubts on the state’s reputation as “heaven on earth.” The inevitable began to occur land prices had reached such a zenith that new customers failed to arrive and old customers began to sell their land. Suddenly, the only market for Florida land was for selling land. St. Petersburg, FL was the most indebted per citizen town in the United States by 1929 and Key West ranked second.

Driving to Tampa

Model Ts 3-4-2012