Summertime is always in the wide world of baseball. Getting teams settled, bats arriving by the thousands of cases, literally millions of balls, plus all the other equipment needed to keep “the boys of summer” going strong is just the beginning.
Major League baseball has played an important part in Pinellas County since the early 1900’s. The beaches were a winter home to many team players over the years. In the 1940's, 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, the New York Yankees, the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets key players rented homes and condos up and down the beaches. Babe Ruth fished with the best guides off Pass-a-Grille and often was a beach visitor during spring training season. The Mets stayed for several years at the Desert Ranch, now the Howard Johnsons Hotel, St Pete Beach. Former St. Louis Cardinals owners, the Busch family, made Pass-a-Grille their home during spring training season, and Mr. Busch conducted business for his Busch brewery from an office along Pass-a-Grille Way.
During the late 1940's and early 1950's, Yogi Berra, Jerry Coleman and Stan Musical with others, often visited the local Little Leaguers at Hurley Park. Most of the players readily gave of their time to the youngsters, and the teams had cook outs with the players as honored guests. It was a fun time not only for these youth players but adults too. When I was in high school, an uncle had a box right behind home plate at the former Al Lang Field along the bay in St. Petersburg and I had a written excuse at school to leave early during Spring Training games. Sitting behind home plate in the warm sunshine with sparkling water as a background and Mantle, Berra and other “super” stars playing ball right in front of you was anyone's wish that came true for me!
An avid baseball fan since at 8 years old my Dad took me to watch a Class D Pittsburgh Pirates team play in a local league in Delaware. We spent summers there on the ocean front and I learned the big game of baseball. Then we moved to Florida and major league teams were at our pleasure. A Yankee fan for years changed when I relocated in San Diego and became a Padre fan. That was exciting when they won the pennant and played in the World Series. San Diego was never a huge baseball venue but during those last three weeks of ball, horns beeped on the free-ways, flags were everywhere and the talk was only baseball. A fun time and after those years when Gregg Nettles, Steve Garvey and pitcher Rollie Fingers helped a struggling team make the big time, baseball (plus a beautiful new stadium on the water) has flourished in Diego!
And so we are now ready for another exciting time with our very own Rays. Pitchers and catcher are always the first to report for the season but this year almost the entire team checked in early for Spring Training. One always wants to see the home team win but if good clean ball is played and the team is competitive it still is exciting and it’s all part of the game of baseball.
Some Rays do stay on the beaches but sadly their whereabouts are not spread around. Former player David Price stayed in Pass-a-Grille and loved it. Other retired players have settled in the area too. Remember it all starts with those little “T” ballers in local Little League that are often destined to reach major leagues one day.
Bottom line…support your local LL, cheer them on, follow the major teams in spring games and throughout the season right to the World Series. Even if from your TV, it is an enjoyable game tried and tested true over many years. So put on your Rays gear, head for Tropicana, get the spirit to welcome and encourage these young major leaguers – Play Ball and Go Rays!