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Al Lang Field to remain open under new deal

Al Lang Field, the former center of spring training in downtown St. Pete, will remain open as a center for college and high-school spring training.

In one form or another Al Lang Field has been home to spring training since the 1900s. The most recent version dates back to 1977, and it last housed spring training in the form of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2008.

Since then the city of St. Petersburg has grappled with the issue of what to do with the scenic waterfront ballpark. One options, favored by some in the community, involves tearing it down and building a park on the land. A proposal to build a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays on the site was shot down last year.

The new deal calls for Tampa Bay Spring Training, a joint venture of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau's Sports Commission, to lease the ballpark and Raymond A. Naimoli Complex. The pair will used to house traveling college and high-school teams, a use where other former spring-training sites, like Dodgertown and Terry Park, have proven to be profitable and busy. It's not a new use for Al Lang Field: last year the balllpark hosted several Big Ten/Big East games.

In addition, a new museum devoted to the history of baseball and spring training in St. Petersburg will be added to the mix.

The terms of the lease calls for Tampa Bay Spring Training to pay up to $10,000 annually for utilities, fees and maintenance. Naming rights could be sold under the terms of the deal.

This is great news for spring-training fans. Visiting Al Lang Field has long been a highlight of spring training, and with the place expected to be fairly busy, it will fun to wander down to the ballpark and just watch some baseball in a casual, scenic atmosphere.

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