Spring training returns (temporarily) to St. Petersburg with the Rays

Hurricane damage in Port Charlotte has forced the team to find temporary accommodations at Tropicana Field and the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.
With the Charlotte Sports Park out of commission due to Hurricane Ian, the Rays have had to scramble to find an interim home for next spring.
With the Charlotte Sports Park out of commission due to Hurricane Ian, the Rays have had to scramble to find an interim home for next spring. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 20, 2022|Updated Dec. 20, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — There won’t be any palm trees or pelicans. And certainly no view of sailboats over the leftfield wall. But 15 years after their final exhibition game at picturesque Al Lang Field, the Rays will have spring training games at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg in 2023.

The team’s spring home in Port Charlotte was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian in late September, so team and Charlotte County officials made the decision several weeks ago to temporarily relocate while cleanup and repairs were made at the stadium and surrounding facilities.

The Rays will begin the spring at Disney World’s multi-field ESPN Wide World of Sports complex with early arrivals on Feb. 6 and pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 14.

The Major League team will relocate to the Trop in early March when spring games begin, although minor league operations and games will continue at Disney.

Because of the previously scheduled Gasparilla Classic gymnastics meet at Tropicana Field in late February, the Rays will likely cancel a home game against the Pirates on Feb. 26. The Feb. 28 home game against the Yankees will likely be played at the Disney complex.

All other home games are expected to be played at the Trop, beginning with March 2 against the Twins.

“We are thankful for Disney’s willingness and ability to accommodate our unexpected spring training needs,” said Rays president Matt Silverman. “ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex will provide our players and coaches with first-class facilities for their annual ramp up to the season.”

There are still a lot of details to be worked out, including ticketing information, which is expected to be released in early January.

While a mid-spring move is not ideal, it made the most sense from a logistical standpoint.

Disney was the spring training home of the Braves for 22 years, but the team moved to North Port in Sarasota County in 2020 after the Astros (Kissimmee) and Nationals (Viera) had left central Florida. That meant most of the away games involved a two-hour or more bus ride each way.

By having early workouts at Disney, the Rays can take advantage of the complex’s facilities to accommodate a large contingent of players before moving to St. Pete, where they will be much closer to a majority of their spring opponents.

The Rays had spring games at Al Lang Field from 1998-2008, while holding workouts at the Naimoli complex in west St. Petersburg about eight miles away. They moved to the Charlotte Sports Complex in 2009 to consolidate their spring operations and also generate fan interest along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

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