"The beginning of spring training each year has always been a moment of hope, a reassurance that the landscape of snow and gray skies and barren trees will soon pass, and the world will again be green."~ Charles Fountain, from his book "Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training"
I'm sure for most of you, today (or whatever day your team's pitchers and catchers report) couldn't have come soon enough. And while I'm always anxious for the beginning of the baseball season, this year is one I've been longing for more so than usual, or so it seems. For the better part of the first three+ weeks of the new year, the highest temperature we had was something like 24 degrees- but it was mostly in the low-to-mid teens. For southwest Idaho, that's below normal. Considering what's taking place in the northeast, I guess I really shouldn't complain.
It's that longing for the baseball season and the desire to escape the doldrums of winter which has caused me to resolve to make a trip to Florida one day and enjoy some Grapefruit League action. Heck, I'd even settle for the Cactus League-it's certainly closer to home. However, it wouldn't allow the joys of watching my team.
While the history of the Braves training in Florida began in Jacksonville, 1906, it wasn't until fifteen years later that they had any sort of continuity in the state. At some point in 1921, Boston owner George Grant promised former St. Petersburg, Florida mayor Al Lang that he would bring his national league club to the Sunshine City for spring training, 1922. Lang had left office in 1920, but had made it his life's work to promote baseball in the Sunshine State. The year following the vacating of his office, Lang had helped the city's park board secure a lease on a prime piece of waterfront property which would eventually house Waterfront Park. He was also instrumental in helping raise $20,000 for the construction of the wooden grandstand at the aforementioned ball park.
When the Braves arrived at St. Petersburg for the spring of 1922, a state of the art facility awaited them- with a grandstand which seated 1,200 spectators, along with "twenty private boxes, wide and convenient entrances and exits, two box offices [and] retiring rooms and toilets for both sexes." In addition to these amenities, the team also had a clubhouse which was ahead of its time, featuring lockers, showers, and lavatory facilities. (Fountain, Under the March Sun)
Waterfront Park would be home to the Braves for the next fifteen springs. The team would leave after the 1937 season for Bradenton, a city which they would call their spring home for three seasons. From Bradenton, they would move to San Antonio, Tx (1941), Sanford, Fl. (1942), Wallingford, Conn (1943-44), Washington, DC (1945), Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. (1946-47), back to Bradenton (1948-1962), West Palm Beach, Fl (1963-1997), and finally their current home, Lake Buena Vista, Fl (1998-).
Prior to their first spring in St. Pete, the team conducted their training in Norfolk, Va. (1901), Thomasville, Ga. (1902-1904), Charleston, SC (1905), Jacksonville, Fl (1906), Thomasville, Ga (1907), Augusta, Ga. (1908-1912), and Athens, Ga. (1913)