TAMPA — For the first time Wednesday, Tampa Bay Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish gazed down to the magnificently manicured green grass in the Steinbrenner Field outfield that will be his team's home.
"Immaculate," the Scottish-born Dalglish said, shaking his head in near disbelief.
And that outer cusp of the infield dirt between first and second base that will be in play in one corner, according to the team's rendering of the field of play?
"It will be the best dirt for sure," Dalglish said with a smile. "You can't think about it. Honestly, it will probably be better than most pitches."
The new Rowdies announced Wednesday that they will play their first season, slated to start in April, on the spring training home of the New York Yankees.
With the announcement, the Rowdies, which were introduced to Tampa 19 months ago and have since overcome stadium issues as well as legal issues when they were among a group of teams that left for a new league, appear to be on course to meet their original goal — bringing professional soccer back to Tampa Bay this spring.
"All the stumbling blocks we've overcome you find in any startup venture," team president Andrew Nestor said. "Making this announcement today, having everything ready to go, it's a relief. Now we have the fun part."
"I think playing in a venue like this gives you immediate credibility. It was important for us to play in a professional venue. To play in a building like this is phenomenal. It's a baseball stadium, but it will work for soccer."
The field at Steinbrenner Field would run along the outfield, with one end line stationed along the first base line in rightfield and stretching into leftfield. Most of the seating bowl, besides the further seats behind home plate, will be sold, giving the facility a capacity of about 10,000, Nestor said. Luxury suites will be available to sponsors.
Nestor said the franchise is pursuing options to eventually build a new 5,500-seat stadium of their own — an attempt to build a stadium off Veterans Highway at Waters Avenue was squashed by county commissioners a year ago — but said "we're definitely in no rush to leave here."
The team had been talking to the Yankees, who own one of the top spring training homes in baseball, for about a year, Nestor said. One of the major obstacles was working around the schedules of the minor-league Tampa Yankees, who also call Steinbrenner home, as well as events at nearby Raymond James Stadium to prevent a parking logjam.
"Getting the agreement done was fairly painless," Nestor said. "They were great to work with. It was a matter of having a firm grip of knowing what the schedule was going to look like and what everything with the league was going to look like. Once we were able to do that, we were able to put something together fairly quickly."
While the official league schedule has yet to be released, Nestor said the Rowdies are tentatively slated to open April 10 on the road. Their first home game would be in May.
Preseason camp starts March 1, with five or six preseason games scheduled before the regular season, most of them local, Nestor said.
The organization will start selling season tickets and group tickets next month, with single-game sales starting in March.
At Wednesday's news conference, the team also announced the signing of 12 players, including locals Pascal Milien, a forward who just finished his senior season at University of Tampa, and former Bradley All-American defenseman Joe Donoho (Jesuit High). Within the next few days, their 22-man roster is expected to have 15 signees.
"It's an honor to have the chance to stay here and play for the Rowdies," Donoho said. "I've gotten 75 phone calls the last two days."
Now the team's focus can turn to on-the-field matters.
"We're a new organization, but we want to be competitive from the very first day," Dalglish said. "We're coming out this year to win a championship. That's our goal. Is it tough? Sure it is. We've got to aim high. That's what we're going to do."