Generations have long relished the bonds formed over a game called baseball. The sport played a major role in shaping the Tampa Bay 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 Ybor City 1887. In a town with less than 700 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.
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: the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees.
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 continued to play until 2018 when a re-branding effort brought the Tampa Tarpons back to Steinbrenner Field.
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.
This delicate structure has been carefully preserved; the entire house moved within Ybor City from its original location to its current location on 19th Street. The home has been lovingly restored and will be put on display for all to enjoy because of the extraordinary efforts of some of the area’s finest leaders, private businesses, volunteers, and the generous grants and donations of too many to name. Community support for this initiative by the Ybor City Museum Society’s Board of Trustees and staff has been overwhelming. It’s teamwork like this that would have made Al Lopez smile.
This is just a warm-up for the workout of honoring & celebrating baseball in Tampa.