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Baseball's back at St. Petersburg's historic Al Lang Field

Groundskeeper Jeffrey Parkinson applies the first-base line at Al Lang Field, named for the mayor who brought spring training to the city in 1916.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Groundskeeper Jeffrey Parkinson applies the first-base line at Al Lang Field, named for the mayor who brought spring training to the city in 1916.

ST. PETERSBURG

In its time Al Lang Field has seen plenty of memorable baseball moments — home runs by Roger Maris, backflips by Ozzie Smith, bases stolen by Carl Crawford.

Now it will be the scene of some international action. Starting Monday, the St. Petersburg International Baseball program kicks off there, when college players from Penn State take on the Seoul Nexen Heroes from South Korea.

And city officials hope this will not only become an annual event, but that it will set the stage for bringing the World Baseball Championship to St. Petersburg in 2013, said Jim Neader, the consultant in charge of the city's sports marketing.

There seems to be a strong appetite for international baseball, he said, with 1,000 season tickets already sold.

For this inaugural season, teams from Korea, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands will compete in exhibition games, some of them against squads from the Tampa Bay Rays and other Major League Baseball teams.

The teams will play at Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park while training at the Walter Fuller Baseball Complex and possibly at Huggins-Stengel Field as well, city officials said.

Al Lang, named for the mayor who first brought spring training to the city in 1916, has long been known as one of the prettiest ballparks in the state. The stadium offered a waterfront view, an old-fashioned scoreboard and, in its heyday, hot dogs cooked on a smoky grill.

Over the years, it played host to the Yankees, the Braves, the Mets, the Orioles, the Cardinals and eventually the hometown Rays. But the Rays moved their spring training operations to Charlotte County in 2009, and Al Lang has stood largely empty ever since —- until now.

"It took some work to make this happen, but I'm glad to see Al Lang back in use," Neader said.

Mayor Bill Foster said he started working on landing the international teams as soon as he took office because otherwise the taxpayers would be spending up to $1.5 million subsidizing Al Lang and Walter Fuller while they sat unused.

Now in addition to using the two facilities, he said, baseball fans from around the globe will visit St. Petersburg and spend money downtown. And he has already met with baseball officials to talk about what it would take for St. Petersburg to land some World Baseball Classic competition.

"I just want to make sure that people think St. Petersburg when they think international sports competition," Foster said.

The park will offer standard ballpark fare for the fans, however, Neader said. No back bacon sandwiches while the Canadians play and no shrimp on the barbie for the Aussies.

The international teams will play a varied schedule, with games throughout the week starting at noon, 1, 2 or 7 p.m. The teams will play each other, as well as squads from the Rays, Blue Jays and Phillies, and college teams from Penn State and St. Petersburg College. For instance, the Rays are slated to face off against the team from the Netherlands on March 9.

Don't expect to see Evan Longoria on the lineup card, though. Those matchups are likely to be split-squad or B-squad games for the major leaguers, Neader said, although some star pitchers are likely to toe the rubber.

Still, the baseball play will be far from amateur. The Korean team, the Seoul Nexen Heroes, placed second in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, losing to Japan.

Australia has committed to play in summer and spring leagues in 2012 in St. Petersburg. The city's ultimate goal is to expand international baseball operations to include the fall and summer, bringing year-round baseball to St. Petersburg.

Schedule
Date Time Visitor Home
Mondaynoon Penn State Seoul Nexen Heroes
Thursday7 p.m. Seoul Nexen Heroes U.S.A. (SPC)
Saturday 2 p.m. Canada Seoul Nexen Heroes
Feb. 27 1 p.m. St. Petersburg Storm Canada
Feb. 28 1 p.m. Seoul Nexen Heroes Canada
March 1 1 p.m. Seoul Nexen Heroes Netherlands
March 1 7 p.m. Canada U.S.A. (SPC)
March 3 7 p.m. Netherlands Seoul Nexen Heroes
March 4 1 p.m. Toronto Blue Jays Canada
March 5 7 p.m. Netherlands Canada
March 9 1 p.m. Tampa Bay Rays Netherlands
March 11 7 p.m. Netherlands U.S.A. (SPC)
March 13 1 p.m. Philadelphia Phillies Netherlands
For information, visit stpeteinternationalbaseball.com or call (727) 551-3000 or 1-800-874-9005.

Baseball's back at St. Petersburg's historic Al Lang Field 02/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 3:31am]
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