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Soccer to rule at Al Lang Field

Al Lang Field

With the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies set to be the sole occupant of Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg, it looks like we’ll see no more spring-training exhibitions at the lovely waterfront ballpark for at least four years.

Al Lang Field has been the site of spring-training games in downtown St. Petersburg since 1947, with the current version of the facility dating back to 1977. The Tampa Bay Rays formerly training there. Since the Rays shifted spring-training operations to Port Charlotte in 2009, Al Lang Field has been used for youth tournaments and spring-training exhibitions, sometimes involving MLB teams as well as MiLB and international squads, under the auspices of the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission.

The Rowdies have also been a tenant, but the split between soccer and baseball hasn’t been smooth, with the Rowdies saying they’ve not been treated well by the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission. The solution: the St. Petersburg City Council is shifting the Al Lang Field lease from the baseball commission to Big 3 Entertainment, a company controlled Rowdies owner Bill Edwards. Edwards already leases one entertainment venue, Mahaffey Theater, on behalf of the city, so there’s a track record there. From the St. Petersburg Tribune:

“It’s sad to see that go,” said Councilman Jim Kennedy, a Tampa Bay Rays season-ticket holder who attended spring games at Al Lang. “The reality of it is Al Lang will not be able to be what it once was because Major League Baseball requires a much larger footprint than Al Lang stadium provides.”

An amendment will be added to the city’s contract with Big 3 to ensure Al Lang remains part of the venue’s name even if the stadium’s naming rights are sold. The city would get 80 percent of any naming rights deal up to $100,000. Above that, its share drops to 20 percent.

“All the pleasure and enjoyment we had watching baseball games there is a thing of the past,” said Council Chairman Bill Dudley. “But Al Lang should always be included in the name of that facility.”

Baseball will still have a home in St. Pete (besides the Tropicana Dome, of course): the Walter Fuller Complex will host some international games and training. The old Naimoli complex — where the Tampa Bay Rays trained — will still be managed by the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission.

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