St. Petersburg Tribune guest columnist Joe Brown takes a stroll down memory lane today with a story about the last time he watched a ball game at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, which was then called Progress Energy Park.
“A friend drove to the game and I paid for the parking, which was close by and pretty cheap compared to what I’ve put out at some professional and collegiate events. Tickets to the contest between the Rays and Boston Red Sox were inexpensive as well, less than $20 apiece. The seats were comfortable and very close to the action. The day was sunny and the humidity was low. It was all that makes spring training baseball in Florida such an enjoyable experience.
“We were sitting high enough to see the water past the left field fence, airplanes landing and taking off at the Albert Whitted Airport, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and sailboats galore. The view was so captivating that I had to remind myself there was a baseball game taking place.”
Like most anyone who grew up in St. Petersburg, I have similar memories of the glory days of Al Lang Field. A fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I vividly remember sitting in rookie sensation Vince Coleman’s Mercedes Benz in the players’ parking lot outside of the stadium while Coleman autographed my press guide.
However, nostalgia for Al Lang is no reason to not improve the facility.
As Brown notes, Bill Edwards, the owner of the Rowdies soccer club, wants Al Lang renovated to make it more accommodating for soccer, but the city of St. Petersburg is trying to put together a Downtown Waterfront Master Plan that will likely include the land the stadium sits on.
Brown, like others in the community, is worried about Al Lang being demolished.
“Whatever is decided, I hope it doesn’t include tearing down Al Lang. Yes, the old ballpark is a throwback to bygone days before sports became all about skyboxes, luxury suites, club seats, Jumbotrons, retractable roofs, seat licenses, cable TV contracts and other revenue streams that have nothing to do with the sport. And that’s the beauty of it.
“Al Lang Field stands as a symbol of the days before trying to pry every dollar from loyal fans and host cities became the norm, when the game itself mattered more than anything, and sports venues were built to accommodate the best interests of the fans, not the owners.”
Certainly rocks weighed more in the days for which Brown yearns.
Bill Edwards is not talking about knocking down Al Lang Stadium. What he wants to do is update Al Lang for its current purposes much in the same way he has updated the Mahaffey Theater.
The City of St. Petersburg should do its best to accommodate the Rowdies’ needs, while keeping fans like Joe Brown in mind.