A major renovation to Joker Marchant Stadium is forcing the Lakeland Flying Tigers (High A; Florida State League) to play their entire home schedule at Henley Field. The classic ballpark, which primarily serves as the home of Florida Southern College‘s baseball program, will begin its run as the Flying Tigers’ temporary venue tonight for an Opening Day matchup with the Tampa Yankees.
Located about a mile-and-a-half south of Joker Marchant Stadium, Henley Field first opened in 1925 as the spring training home of the Cleveland Indians. The Detroit Tigers began training there in 1934 and—save for a few a springs in which wartime travel restrictions forced them conduct spring training at Bosse Field in Evansville, IN—remained at the facility until Joker Marchant’s opening in 1966.
Henley Field’s distinguished Spanish Mediterranean design and its place in baseball lore make it one of the most iconic ballparks of its kind. In fact, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
However, it will present some complications for the Flying Tigers. Henley Field only seats about 1,000 fans, and offers very little in the way of standing room. As a result, the Flying Tigers are planning to cap ticket sales on crowded nights, and are encouraging fans to make advance purchases for select games. Despite those drawbacks, Flying Tigers general manager Zach Burek says that the club plans to continue with most of its previously-scheduled promotions. More form The Ledger:
That starts with tonight’s opener, meaning that “Thirsty Thursday” will be in full effect. Fans can buy $1 sodas and two-for-one draft beers and frozen drinks at regular price.
“We’re going to have the same promotions,” Burek said. “We’re going to provide as much value for our fans as we can.”
The only promotion that won’t be returning on a regular basis is the fireworks show after Saturday home games. Burek said safety is the main issue why fireworks won’t happen after any Saturday home games.
“There’s just not enough space,” he said. “You need to have a dedicated launch and safe area and with hospital being so close and cars being there it wasn’t safe.”
Burek said everything else, from $1 Mondays to all-you-can-eat Wednesdays, will remain.
The small space limits what the Flying Tigers can do from a renovations standpoint, but a few upgrades were made to the make Henley Field usable this year. The visitor’s clubhouse was renovated, while the ballpark’s lighting and the padding behind home plate were both enhanced.
Under the current plan, the Flying Tigers will only need to play out of Henley Field for 2016. The $40 million overhaul to Joker Marchant Stadium is expected to be complete by spring training of next year, allowing the Flying Tigers to return in time for the regular season.
This is not the first time in recent history that the Flying Tigers have temporarily set up shop at Henley Field. The team played the entire 2002 season at the ballpark because of upgrades to Joker Marchant Stadium.