If you haven’t noticed by the many signs downtown, “baseball is back.”
But let’s start at the very beginning.
Did you even know it was here to begin with? For 83 years Lakeland has been the host city for the Detroit Tigers Spring Training. In fact, it’s the longest-standing relationship between a team and its host spring city in the Major Leagues and one of the richest in MLB history. Which, coming from a Bostonian, is saying a lot.
We’re kicking off a three week TigerTown series, because what better time is there to fill you in on this gem of a relationship than spring training? By the end of these three weeks, it may just make you question your current MLB team loyalty.
So, how did Lakeland luck out?
Since 1934, for the all-star likes of Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline and Miguel Cabrera, Lakeland has been the training grounds for countless MLB and minor league players. In 1923 the Cleveland Indians first arrived to train at Henley Field and trained there until 1927. From 1928-1933 there was no professional baseball team coming through the city, and realizing the economic loss it would mean for the city, Lakeland invited the Detroit Tigers to come train for one year.
The team would continue to play under a one year contract with the city for another 37 years.
In 2014, 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 and by spring of 2017, the Detroit Tigers’ winter home was newly revealed as Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.
While this 2019 spring season marks the club’s 54th consecutive season of exhibition play, the team keeps the greens alive with much history. From World War II, to the famed Howard Hughes + Wright brothers (more on all those aviation connections in the weeks to come) and a minor league with one of the longest unbroken affiliate relationships still existing, like we said, this is only the beginning.