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).