By Phil Hecken
The Detroit Tigers and have been playing their spring training baseball in Lakeland, Florida, longer than any other major league baseball team in one location. In 1934, they began their relationship with this Florida town, playing continuously except for a three year “hiatus” due to World War II. Before that they trained at ten different sites over thirty or so years. Thus, if you discount the war years, the Tigers this spring are celebrating their 75th Anniversary of training in Lakeland.”¨”¨
Uni Watch reader, and my buddy, Tod Hess, recently went down to Florida to take in the space shuttle launch and watch some Tiger action in Lakeland. He’ll be giving us a bit of a rundown a bit later in this article. But first, a brief history of the Tigers spring home since 1934.
Until “Tiger Town” opened at the site of the Lodwick School of Aeronautics in 1953, the Tigers conducted spring activities and played exhibition games at Henley Field. They continued to play games at Henley Field until 1966 when Joker Marchant Stadium opened at Tiger Town. The Tigers have played at Joker Marchant since 1966.
Henley Field was built in 1923, and was used by the Tigers beginning in 1934 (1934-42, 1946-65). It has a capacity of 1000 people, and it’s still an active ballpark.
Henley Field’s main entrance has ticket booths on both sides, like many stadiums built in its era. The original clubhouses are still under the grandstand, although teams no longer use them. After a renovation in 2002, fans sat on aluminum benches, which replaced the wooden seating. The official scorer and his staff work from tables placed in the grandstand behind the plate. ”¨”¨ A simple scoreboard is used in the outfield.
The stadium hasn’t changed much from the early days. But even back in 1937, the team was immensely popular, often playing to overflow crowds. Of course, back in the 1930s and early 1940s, the Tigers had some outstanding talent (and several Hall of Famers) including first sacker Hank Greenberg (seen on the left), Mickey Cochrane (left) and Coach Bing Miller, as well as pitchers Hal Newhouser and Buck “Bobo” Newsome. Several of the teams to train in Lakeland would go on to win World Series.
As you may all know, one of the Tigers spring training quirks (at least until this year, when they’ve worn BP caps with their uniforms) is to always wear their “home” cap both home and on the road. Back in the 1930’s, at least as near as I can tell, the Tigers always wore their road uniforms for training and for home games. That photo seems to be from 1936, as the only time the Tigers wore a white road cap in that era was 1935 (traditionally teams wear their uniforms from the prior year in spring training). This photo, which has been dated to 1937, indicates they kept the white caps for at least two springs.
Unfortunately, dating old photographs can be tricky, as this photo of Barney McCosky is dated 1939 — his rookie year. Perhaps the identifier saw the sleeve patch and mistook it for the 1939 centennial patch, when in fact that appears to be a World War II-era “Health” patch, which the Tigers wore from 1942-1946. I’m not even entirely certain that’s the Health patch, as zooming in on it proved inconclusive. Whatever it is, it’s not the centennial patch.
Henley Field was usually quite full in the depression-era 1930s and 1940s, and good times were had by all. Opposing teams seemed to enjoy playing in Henley. An unidentified member of the Washington Senators gave new meaning to grapefruit league, and the Splendid Splinter engaged in a game of cricket(!) at Henley, in 1942.
Just this past week, the Detroit News.com put a nice gallery of past spring training photos on their site. There are truly some gems in that set (the first 49 of which are either pre-Henley or Henley) and well worth looking at if you haven’t already (as Paul had posted that link in the ticker earlier this week).
In 1966, the Tigers would leave Henley Field and move into their current home, Joker Marchant Stadium. The stadium, which was renovated in 2003, holds 8,500 people and was named for local resident and former Parks and Recreation Director, Joker Marchant. Besides being the spring training home of the Tigers, it doubles as the regular season home for the minor league affiliates Lakeland Flying Tigers and Gulf Coast Tigers. 2011 marks the club’s 46th consecutive season of exhibition play at Joker Marchant Stadium.
As mentioned above, Tod Hess, Detroit Tiger (and even bigger Red Wings) fan, had a chance to take in a game at Joker this past week while down in Florida. So, without further ado, here’s Tod:
Detroit Tigers game in Lakeland
By Tod Hess
I took a vacation down to Florida last week to watch the final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. As a lifelong fan of NASA, I have always wanted to see a launch live. With just three launches left I decided to take in this one. While I was in Florida, I also drove down to Lakeland to see my Detroit Tigers play a spring training game.
I chose the Sunday game against Toronto, which was their first “home” game of the spring. (Note: They had played Florida Southern on Friday but this was their first home game against a major league team.). I got there just before 11 AM and picked up my ticket and proceeded to my seat to watch batting practice. After batting practice, I wandered down to get some food and I missed the pre-game ceremony marking the Tigers 75th year in Lakeland. The Tigers started in Lakeland in 1934 and have been there every year with the exception or 1943 and 1944 because of the war. (I got a 75th year pin when I walked in the gate). I did get back to my seat to see Al Kaline throw out the first pitch and it was a perfect strike (note: Joker Marchant Stadium in on Al Kaline Drive).
Joker Marchant Stadium in the only spring training stadium I have been to, so I nothing to compare it to but it seems very nice. I sat about 20 rows off the field just to the left of home plate, although I would love to have had Leyland’s seat. Down the left field line are the bleachers and regular seating. In left field is a burm where they sell ticket for people to sit. Down the right field line is more seating and this. Here is a shot of the scoreboard and bullpen in right field.
As for the game, the Tigers won 1-0 on a Victor Martinez sacrifice fly that scored Andy Dirks. (Yeah, I never heard of him either). If you have a chance to see a shuttle launch or a Tigers pre-season game, I say do it.
Thanks, Tod. Great road trip and fantastic pictures — and not just of the Tigers either.
by Rick Pearson
Oh, swell, our Friendly Neighborhood Demonstrators are back…
And of course, the full-size.
Lots and lots of tweaks keep pouring in, so obviously this is a popular feature. A bunch new to get to today. If you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.
Remember, if possible, try to keep your descriptions to ~50 words (give or take) per tweak. You guys have been great a keeping to that, and it’s much appreciated!
Got a nice of tweaks today…so lets get right into it:
Starting off the show is Hyatt Werling, who has some NFL-mashup tweaks for us:
My name’s Hiatt Werling, with four more tweaks that follow the theme of changing an NFL team’s color scheme based on something that I can in some way relate to the team or the city. I’d like to made such a tweak for all 32 teams. As a disclaimer, obviously I don’t think any team should ever use any of these, they’re just for fun and to see what I can come up with. Here’s 13-16:
Lions–Pistons Set: Though they were by no means greatly-designed uniforms and though they were a bastardization of the Pistons history, I did like the colors from the late 90’s Pistons uniforms, so I gave them to their fellow Detroit team, the Lions.
Falcons–Georgia Peach Set: I’m a big fan of the Buccaneers’ Creamsicle uniforms, and if they’re not going to wear the color full-time, I figured somebody should. I gave it to the Falcons, for a “Georgia Peach” motif.
Eagles–Yellow Jackets Set: Though I remember them being heavily lambasted, I really liked the Yellow Jacket throwbacks the Eagles wore for one game in 2007, so I made a uniform set using those colors and their current throwback.
49ers–Rainbow Set: Of all the wacky tweaks I’ve made, this one’s probably the wackiest. Basically, I wanted to see what a full-on rainbow uniform would look like. Rainbow made me think of tie-dye which made me think of hippie culture which made me think of San Francisco.
Next up is a huge set from Stephen Magnotta, who has tweaks for the entire NFC:
I went with a lot of classics, with some exceptions like the Panthers and Sea Hawks. As well as i’m not a fan of BFBS so i took black out of the eagles,cardinals, cowboys, lions. After saying that if you look at my NFC south 3 of the 4 are black, but i looked at it falcons and Pathers are black and the saints wouldn’t look good in gold. Hope you enjoy them I will send the AFC soon:
Stephen A. Magnotta
Closing out the tweaks today is Adam Difrisco, who blesses with a WVA concept:
Being a student at West Virginia University I have more than an emails worth to say about their current uni’s. Although theres not to much wrong with them I feel like they should go back to basics a bit. So here are my ideas for new WVU uni’s:
Home/Away: Same helmet, but changed the striping on the jerseys to make it less crowded and messy. Also, I added the state outline above the numbers insted of the “WV”. I always felt they should bring the state outline into more concepts.
Alternate Home: Several new, or old rather, ideas here. Bringing back the 1971-72 helmets and going with the classic blue insted of the navy. I thought the circled numbers gave it a nice “packers-ish” throwback touch. And since the school is so involved with the actaul state thats the West Virginia state seal on the left arm.
That’s it for today. Back with more tomorrow.
A Home without a Team…
As long as we’re still in the “spring training” stadium mood, what if there was a beautiful Florida stadium, built to host a major league team for the spring season, but no one wants to play there? Well, that’s what you have with the Homestead Sports Complex, located just south of Miami.
According to Wikipedia, “In 1991 the City of Homestead built the Sports Complex at a price tag of 22 million dollars in order to provide a Spring Training facility for the Cleveland Indians. The stadium was widely recognized as being state-of-the-art for the time period, as it included multiple practice facilities as well as dormatories for players. The Indians had previously played in the Cactus League in Arizona but had signed a deal to make Homestead their long-term Spring Training home. Cleveland was due to begin full-time play at the stadium in the 1993 season. In 1992 they had already began moving equipment and personnel to Florida. However, on August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Homestead as a Category 5 cyclone with winds reaching 165 mph. The stadium, directly in the path of the hurricane, was decimated. The Indians quickly began meetings with lawyers and eventually they exercised an “out clause” in the contract.
“The city decided to immediately re-construct the stadium hoping that they could have it built for the 1994 Spring Training season in order for the Indians, or perhaps another team to use. However, without a spring facility for the 1993 season Cleveland was forced to look quickly for another home. The Boston Red Sox had been using Winter Haven, Florida’s Chain of Lakes Park as their training facility for 26 years. However, the Red Sox were moving to Fort Myers for the 1993 season, thus allowing the Indians to use Chain of Lakes as their spring facility in the meantime. However, knowing the situation that the Indians were in, the City allowed the team to use the stadium on the condition that they sign a 10 year contract. Cleveland had no other choice, so they signed the deal and left Homestead without a team.” The full write up is here.
There is a tremendous slideshow with commentary on the Homestead Sports Complex, and it too, is well worth the read through. Pretty amazing how mother nature not only changed the face of south Florida in 1992, but how the fear of another major hurricane dealt a second economic blow to one of the hardest-hit cities just as it appeared to be recovering from Hurricane Andrew. Hopefully the Marlins will consider making Homestead their “winter” home when they move into their new digs for the 2012 season.
OK everyone, that’s all for today. Have a great Saturday. And if you still have a few minutes, why not take the following quiz? If nothing else, you’ll probably feel better about yourself afterwards.
I used to stick my hip grip out of my back pocket in 83. I had to continuously comb my bi-level spike. Unfortunately, mine didn’t say “Deacon Jones” on it. Mine said “Goody”. — Marty Hick