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Plaques honoring baseball history in St. Petersburg relocate to Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field

ST. PETERSBURG — If you blinked, you might have missed that the Jim Healey & Jack Lake Baseball Boulevard is no more.

Never heard of it? That explains at least part of what happened.

It debuted in 1998, a path wending its way along First Street S from Al Lang Stadium, where it then turned along Central Avenue before veering toward Tropicana Field just west of 13th Street.

Eighty-five plaques — in the shape of home plate — were placed in sequential order, from 1914, when the St. Louis Browns started training in St. Petersburg, to 1998, the inaugural season for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Each plaque told a tidbit of that year. The project cost $47,000.

But the trail went cold last year. That's when the city dug up 56 plaques that were on pedestals along Central Avenue and moved them to Progress Energy Park, the home of Al Lang Field. They now adorn a concrete beam at the entrance of the ballpark.

"We made a decision that the impact of having the plaques along the walk wasn't as much as we had intended," said Joe Zeoli, the city's managing director of administration and finance. "It had been there for more than a decade and people didn't really know about it."

Even Lisa Wannemacher, a local architect who helped design the project (and is on the team designing the Pier), said not too many people knew of the plaques' existence.

"People realized that the trail wasn't working very well," she said. "Maybe the plaques were spaced too far apart."

Zeoli said some pedestals had fallen into disrepair. Roots from nearby oak trees made them unsteady. Skateboarders had scuffed some of them. Some were severely weather worn.

Rather than replace the pedestals, the decision was made to move the plaques to Al Lang, where Mayor Bill Foster debuted international baseball in 2011. It cost about $20,000 to remove and reinstall the plaques.

Zeoli said the plaques have had more of an impact at Al Lang.

"We think it did what we were hoping for, to re-establish that baseball connection with the community," he said.

Yet the plaques are now hard to read from the ground. At night, it's not even clear what they are.

The plaques are beveled and raised, so people would trip over them if they were in the ground, Wannaemacher said.

"It's a challenge," she said. "I'm not sure if the city is considering another location. I'm not sure where else they would go."

For now, they await visitors to Al Lang. Zeoli said the city didn't publicize switching the plaques to Al Lang, and digging up a continuous path of plaques meant to honor two men who championed a Major League Baseball team in St. Petersburg.

Why not?

"That's a good question," Zeoli said. "It's worthwhile to make people aware of it."

Plaques honoring baseball history in St. Petersburg relocate to Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field 05/22/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 3:34pm]
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