A few years ago, the Tigers doubled down on their long-standing relationship with the city of Lakeland, electing to make a serious investment in their stadium and spring training home. The newly-renovated complex is set to debut next month, with new training facilities, upgraded amenities for the fans (including more places to relax and more places to watch the game in the shade) and a complex that will support year-round activities, on and off the field.
For the fans, highlights of the new stadium include;
· More than 2,000 seats in the shade
· The 34 Club, an indoor bar with seating for 200
· The Hooters Dugout, Margaritaville and Pepsi Pavilion with group seating for fans
· Kids Playground
· LED HD Video Display and Scoreboard
· Berm Bar, providing food and drink service and shade to the left field berm
· The Runway, connecting left field and right field giving the stadium a full, walkable concourse
For the organization, the upgrades include;
· New clubhouse and weight room
· A year-round rehab center
· A new observation tower and practice field with artificial turf
· Club offices
When the space opens up to the team, fans and the media in February, it will undoubtedly receive rave reviews, and as Tigers fans visit they’ll undoubtedly be impressed.
And to be clear, the Lakeland area has been great to the Tigers, and offers plenty for the organization. Downtown has plenty of activity and a growing nightlife, places like Lakeside Village offer shopping, restuarants and entertainment, and of course the city still offers plenty of ways to connect with nature, including the Circle B Bar Reserve, where a mammoth alligator was recently filmed strolling through the nature preserve (VIDEO).
But while the Tigers invest in central Florida, there’s been a steady of teams fleeing, either to Arizona or the Florida coasts. Just a couple of decades ago, the Grapefruit League map was populated with teams throughout central Florida:
Within an hour drive, not only did the Tigers have all of the Tampa/St. Pete area teams, but the Cleveland Indians were in Winter Haven, the Astros in Kissimmee, the Braves in Lake Beuna Vista, and the Expos/Nationals just over an hour away in Viera.
In 2009, the Cleveland Indians departed Winter Haven, going west to Goodyear, Arizona.
This spring, the Astros are leaving Kissimmee and the Nationals are leaving Viera, moving into a new combined facility in West Palm Beach. That leaves the map looking like this;
And earlier this week, the Braves announced that they will be leaving their Lake Buena Vista home at Disney’s Wide World of Sports for North Port, Florida, near Sarasota.
By 2019, the Tigers will be the only team in the Grapefruit League not on one of the coasts.
The location of the other spring training teams doesn’t impact the wonderful facility the Tigers are building in Lakeland, won’t take away from the experience on-site. It does however mean that if fans want to see the Tigers on the road, they’ll be making a longer hike, or might be departing Lakeland early and staying in another locale.
It also presents challenges for the logistics of operating spring training.
It means that for away games, players are going to be spending increasingly more time traveling. It also likely means more overnight road trips, as over half the teams in the Grapefruit League are now more than two hours away.
It also complicates things for the minor leaguers. The minor league players and coaches already have an abbreviated spring training, and typical schedule was to be on the fields early in the morning for workouts, a midday break for lunch, and then hoping on a bus to travel for away games (for those that don’t typically watch minor league spring training games, the usual practice is that teams swap, with Double-A and Triple-A teams playing at one team’s facility, and the A-ball clubs visiting the other team’s facility).
The clubs in the Tampa area aren’t too far away still, but if the Tigers minor leaguers need to get to Sarasota or Port St. Lucie, it means multiple hours on a bus, taking away from valuable workout and evaluation time. It may not seem like much, but multiple hours a day over the course of a few weeks spent on a bus rather than on the field does add up.
So while other clubs decisions shouldn’t impact the excitement happening in Lakeland, it’s worth noting that while the Tigers invest in Lakeland and central Florida, the club is going to get more and more lonely in the land between the coasts.null