Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

Plaques along Baseball Boulevard show history of baseball in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Give you two Stan Musials, one Steve Bilko. Throw in Country Slaughter, if you'll let Alston go.

Big Tom Alston, Cardinals '54, I seen him yesterday at the Woolworth store.

Bruce Piephoff's big foot in the door.

Plaque No. 40, near the mid-point of the Jim Healey & Jack Lake Baseball Boulevard linking Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field, notes the 1953 signing of the St. Louis Cardinals' Tom Alston and the New York Yankees' Elston Howard.

It was the year St. Petersburg's two spring training teams became racial integrated.

St. Petersburg's baseball history, from the St. Louis Browns' 3-2 humbling by the 1914 Chicago Cubs at Coffee Pot Park to the 1998 welcome of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, is chronicled on a path of 85 major-league size brass home plate plaques.

The Jim Healey & Jack Lake Baseball Boulevard, named for the two men who championed a Major League Baseball team in St. Petersburg long before anyone had heard of Field of Dreams, will be dedicated at 5 p.m. Friday at the Tropicana Field rotunda. Community leaders and representatives of the Healey and Lake families will attend. The public is invited.

The plaques, which cost $35,632, plus $11,600 for 56 concrete pedestals, note every professional baseball team that played in St. Petersburg since Al Lang lured the Browns to town in 1914, often in a humorous tone. Examples:

• 1936 – "Joe DiMaggio's spring debut is disrupted when the Yankees trainer parboils his left ankle during treatment, sidelining him until May."

• 1966 – "In June, the St. Petersburg Cardinals play and play and play, losing to Miami in a then record 29-inning game."

The idea stems from a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce Sports Council plan to honor the St. Louis Cardinals, who ended their 57 spring training seasons in St. Petersburg last year.

Council chair Scott Brainard said he and fellow council members came up with an initial history that later was augmented by baseball historian Karen Mathews and Times staff writer Marc Topkin. Mark Russell of Wannamacher Russell Architects Inc. came up with plaque concept and design.

A rectangular plaque telling of Healey and Lake, and the boulevard's intent, mark either end of Baseball Boulevard, which runs on First Street S from Al Lang Stadium and turns on the south sidewalk of Central Avenue before veering to Tropicana Field just west of 13th Street.

The intent was to have Baseball Boulevard ready for the Devil Rays opening day, Brainard said. Dedication will begin two hours, five minutes before the first pitch of the last home stretch, three games against the Toronto Blue Jays.

This story was originally published in the St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 16, 1998.

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