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Lakeland’s 89-year love story with the Tigers

Keep reading for our favorite local love story.

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Henley Field in Lakeland (1965)

Photo via the Lakeland Public Library

Table of Contents

Detroit has called Lakeland its second home for nearly 90 years, making it the longest-standing relationship between a team and its host spring city in the Major Leagues and one of the richest in MLB history.

Although there’s no crying in baseball, here’s how Lakeland and Detroit pitched a tissue-worthy love story.

A black and white photo of the Cleveland Indians in Lakeland, circa 1924.

Cleveland Indians (Spring 1924)

Photo via Florida Memory

The Tigers’ local history

1923 | Lakeland’s first love: The Cleveland Indians arrived to train at Henley Field and brought an economic boom to the city. In 1927, the Indians and Lakeland parted ways.

A black and white photo of the Lakeland Flying Tigers circa 1937.

Detroit Tigers (Spring 1937)

1934 | The meet-cute: Lakeland invited the Detroit Tigers to come train for a year, trying to fill a baseball-sized economic hole in its heart. Before meeting, Detroit had trained at 10 sites. The team ended up signing a 37-year contract to stay in LAL.

1960 | Nuclear family: The Lakeland Flying Tigers were first a love child between Lakeland and Cleveland. In 1963, Detroit added Lakeland to its farming system, changing its name to The Lakeland Tigers.

A black and white photo of airplanes circa 1942.

Airplanes at the Lodwick School of Aeronautics in Lakeland (1942)

1966 | Moving in: The Tigers moved into Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, which sat 4,900 people upon opening. Before it was the spring training field for the Detroit Tigers, the land under the stadium was where thousands of pilots across the globe were trained. To pay homage to the original use for the land, the team was renamed the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

A panoramic shot of Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium at twilight. Players are on the field and the field lights are on, but the stands and seats are empty.

Grab your seat for an upcoming game.

Photo by Reader Tom H., submitted for our 2023 Picture of the Year Contest

2014 | Renewing vows: The Tigers signed on to train in Lakeland for 20 more years, marking what will be a 100-year spring training relationship by 2036. The deal called for a $47 million upgrade for the stadium by the spring of 2017.

2023 | Happily ever after: The Tigers extended their lease through December 2044, and the City of Lakeland approved a $33 million dormitory upgrade for the team. The project will include new team dorms, recreation areas, and a cafeteria; Joker Marchant Stadium will be unaffected.

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