No reason not to head to Al Lang Field in the coming month. Beginning today and continuing through March 18, there will be a host of college, independent, international and MLB split-squad teams playing at one of the more scenic ballparks in Florida.
The games will be played under three different programs: the annual Big East/Big Ten Baseball Challenge, the Independent Baseball Prospect Tournament and the St. Pete International slate of games, where many will feature split squads from Major League teams fighting it out against international teams.
The annual Big East/Big Ten Baseball Challenge kicks off today (Feb. 17) at a variety of venues in Tampa/St. Pete, including Al Lang Field, Jack Russell Stadium, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Bright House Field and the former Tampa Bay Devil Rays spring-training complex at Walter Fuller Park (known also as the Naimoli Complex). You're talking two levels of facilities here. The grandstand was torn down at Jack Russell Stadium (the former spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies) and replaced with bleacher seating, while there's also basic seating at the Naimoli Complex fields. So you need to be somewhat of a hardcore baseball fan to take in games at these facilities.
But we'd definitely recommend taking in games at the other three. Al Lang Field is the former home of spring training in downtown St. Pete: with a nice view of the marina and easy access to downtown attractions, it's one of our favorite springtime destinations. Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is the spring home of the Toronto Blue Jays and is a basic, if very comfortable facility; we like parking in downtown Dunedin and strolling down the Pinellas Trail to the ballpark. And Bright House Field is certainly one of the best spring-training facilities in Florida.
Baseball has been played at Al Lang Field since 1917. Here's a look at an early incarnation of the venerable field.
Ten Big East-Big Ten games will be played daily on Feb. 17-19, with most of the games taking place at the Fuller Park and Jack Russell fields. On Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 Al Lang Field will host tripleheaders, with games at 10 a.m., 1 and 4 p.m.; while Florida Auto Exchange Stadium will host a doubleheader at 4 and 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 17. On Feb. 18 Bright House Field will host a doubleheader at 4 and 7:30 p.m., while Al Lang Stadium will host a doubleheader on Feb. 19. Check out bigtenbigeastbaseballchallenge.com for a full schedule.
More baseball will be on tap at Al Lang Field on Feb. 24-March 4, during the Independent League Prospect Tournament.
The tournament will consist of four teams (each representing an independent-baseball league) each playing eight to 10 games, with doubleheaders each day at 1 p.m. The semi-finals will be held on March 3 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. The Championship Game is March 4 at 1 p.m. While it's organized for scouts, fans are invited to attend, and tickets are a reasonable $5.
Finally, a small slate of spring-training game will be played at Al Lang Field between March 6 and March 18 under the St. Petersburg International label. Here's the schedule:
March 6: Canada/Netherlands (7:05 p.m.)
March 7: Canada/St. Petersburg College (7:05 p.m.)
March 8: Netherlands/Detroit Tigers (1:05 p.m.)
March 9: Canada/St. Petersburg College (7:05 p.m.)
March 10: Netherlands/Canada (5:05 p.m.)
March 11: Canada/Philadelphia Phillies (1:05 p.m.)
March 12: Netherlands/Pittsburgh Pirates (1:05 p.m.)
March 13: Canada/Toronto Blue Jays (1:05 p.m.)
March 16: Netherlands/Atlanta Braves (1:05 p.m.)
March 18: Netherlands/Tampa Bay Rays (1:05 p.m.)
Now, don't be expecting the likes of Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder to be showing up for these games: they're all split-squad affairs for all the MLB teams, and there will be a lot of AAA/AA players in the lineups. But on a sunny day at a great venue, who cares? For a full schedule and ticket information, check out stpeteinternationalbaseball.com.
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