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All Eyes - Reporting with a camera

Spring Training in Tampa Bay: A history in photos



Spring training came to the Tampa Bay area more than a century ago when the Chicago Cubs trekked southward to Tampa in the winter of 1913. The St. Louis Browns migrated to St. Petersburg a year later, then the Philadelphia Phillies came behind them.

Year after year, teams left their frigid home cities to practice in our sunshine. And even back then, in the mosquito-infested, scrub-brush-covered little towns that were Tampa and St. Petersburg, the big leaguers caused a spectacle.

That first year as the Browns rode to the ballpark aboard a rattling streetcar, adults and children jogged alongside the slow-moving car, shouting for autographs or just a glimpse of its star occupants.

Eventually all the legends of baseball passed through the area in one year or the next, invariably popping up somewhere other than the field.

Whether it was Musial on the links, Ford and his family in a motel pool, Ruth putting at the Jungle Club or Bench holding court at the private dining room just inside the front door at the old Malio's restaurant in Tampa, the larger-than-life players mingled with the masses.

The St. Petersburg Daily Times from September 1913 discussed the St. Louis Browns' contract with St. Petersburg and how it spelled out ways to capitalize and publicize the hoopla surrounding the players:
... a good plan for raising money and for advertising of local merchants is to sell sign rights on the board fence around the park ... many pictures should be taken of the park and of the players in their uniform and citizens clothes while they are fishing, boating, or playing for articles in the Sunday papers.

For more than 100 years, the ballplayers have been posing and playing in the sunshine while photographers clicked away for the hometown papers. To those freezing up north, the pictures were emulsified ambassadors to a world unknown.

Come to Florida, the photographs beckoned, where the sun is always shining.

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 5:30pm]


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