When the Tampa Bay Rays moved spring operations to Port Charlotte’s Charlotte Sports Park in 2009, the future of Al Lang Field was uncertain. Now, under management of the Rays, it’s a popular soccer venue, with plenty of upgrades scheduled for 2022.
Ironically, it was the Rays that first led to the venue’s uncertainty. When the Rays moved spring operations to Port Charlotte beginning in January 2009, the future of the downtown St. Petersburg ballpark was in some doubt. The Al Lang Field site had been home to spring training and minor-league ball since 1947, with the current facility replacing a distinctive Art Deco ballpark in 1976. It served as the first home of Tampa Bay Devil Rays spring training before the move to Port Charlotte. It then was used occasionally for baseball exhibitions and other events, with city officials questioning whether it would be better to tear down the ballpark for development (the location is certainly a prime spot) or potentially the home of a new Rays waterfront ballpark.
In the meantime, a new use for the facility emerged: pro soccer.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies, adopting the name of an earlier NASL franchise, were born in 2008 and led by three local business owners. That team began play in the USL but then became a founding member of the Division II NASL before returning to what’s now USL Championship in 2017. Along the way the team moved to Al Lang Stadium (yes, the name changed) in 2011 from Steinbrenner Field, spring home of the Yankees. In October 2018 the team and the stadium lease were sold to the Tampa Bay Rays, beginning a new era for Al Lang.
Since then the Rowdies have added some new features annually, changing the color scheme and making it more user-friendly for soccer fans. This spring sees the addition of several new premium spaces, including a Corner Kick field-level party, accommodating up to 150 people (75 minimum) with free parking and upscale food (shown below); a VIP suite (shown above); a Field Level suite in a former dugout (top of page) and connected to the home or visiting team tunnels; and a Berm Party Area with standing drink rails (second from top).
Yes, there are plenty of folks who would love to see spring training return to Tampa Bay, and with the Rays front office discussing such a move once the Charlotte Sports Park lease ends, there was some hope for an Al Lang revival. (In the end, the Rays were discussing playing spring games at a new Tampa ballpark.) So while no one is really holding out home for baseball returning to Al Lang Stadium, it’s emerging as one of the most fan-friendly venues in USL soccer.