Generations have long relished the bonds formed over a game called baseball. It’s a strong, steady unifying tie. Baseball played a major role in shaping our community and integrating the wide range of cultures and heritage in our region. The roots run deep, steeped in tradition. A Tampa baseball team was first organized in 1878. In a town with less than 800 residents, hundreds watched the Tampa team take on other Florida teams. Less than a decade later, the cigar industry arrived in Ybor City, along with Cuban immigrants with a deep love for baseball.
The Minor Leagues weren’t far behind. The Tampa Smokers started in 1919 as a charter franchise of the Florida State League. This version of the Smokers closed in 1929, until it was revived in 1946 as part of the International League. The Smokers played the Havana Cubans regularly, until the league folded in 1954. The Tampa Tarpons became Tampa’s Minor League team, playing at Al Lopez Field from 1957-89. In 1994, the Tampa Yankees came to town and continue to play today.
Tampa’s spring training tradition got an early start: 1913. The Chicago Cubs trained at Plant Field, which paved the way for five other teams’ spring training in Tampa: Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees.
This is just a warm-up
for the workout of
honoring & celebrating
baseball in Tampa.
America’s favorite pastime endured World War II. The Inter-Social League pulled crowds of several thousand to West Tampa and Ybor City to see players that included the fathers of future Major Leaguers Lou Piniella and Dave Magadan. Outside the Tampa region, the All-American Professional Baseball League took shape, and called to Ybor City’s own Senaida “Shu Shu” Wirth. She played shortstop and second base for the South Bend Blue Sox from 1946-51, earning her way to the All-Star team in her rookie season.
This is just a warm-up for the workout of honoring and celebrating baseball in Tampa. Every level of the sport from local minor leagues, to the local legends raised in West Tampa, Ybor City and other areas of Tampa, is represented in the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House.