As home of the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, Al Lang Stadium is a baseball ballpark converted to a soccer stadium. The facility, and those preceding it, have played a large role in St. Petersburg’s development—and is positioned to play a continued role in the future.
Everyone loves a waterfront sporting facility: it’s a great feeling to be sitting in the cheap seats and still have a great view of the landscape, the bay, and the boats in the water. Al Lang Stadium and the area to the north have been hosting professional sports in the form of Major League Baseball spring training, Minor League Baseball and soccer since 1922, when Waterfront Park opened at the corner of 1st Street Southeast and 1st Avenue Southeast, to the north of the current Al Lang Stadium location. (The St. Petersburg Saturday Market sits on the old Waterfront Park site.) Waterfront Park hosted several MLB teams over the years—Boston Braves, New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals—before being replaced by Al Lang Field in 1947.
Al Lang Field was built a block south of Waterfront Park and continued hosting Major League Baseball spring training in the form of the St. Louis Cardinals and later the New York Mets. It was named for St. Petersburg Mayor Al Lang, whose efforts in pushing spring training as a tourism promotion led to multiple MLB teams training in the city. The facility was rebuilt in 1977 with lots more shade and concrete, serving as the spring home of the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays. After the Rays shifted spring training to Port Charlotte, the future of the ballpark was far from assured. Sitting on some prime waterfront real estate, the city began looking at other uses for the site. The Rays floated the location as a possible new-ballpark site before Rowdies owner Bill Edwards pitched it as a home for his Rowdies. (Somewhere along the way Al Lang Field became Al Lang Stadium. No, we don’t know why, either.)
The baseball heritage is why there’s a somewhat awkward configuration for pro soccer: those old ballpark grandstand seats are not the greatest for viewing the pitch. That area would go away should the Rowdies make the move to MLS, but at this point it’s a definite long-shot. What would be ideal when the Rowdies potentially drop the MLS pursuit: a reconfiguration of the space that takes out the baseball grandstand, adds raised seating to the west and opens the view to the St. Petersburg waterfront. There is the potential for Al Lang Stadium to be one of the prettiest soccer stadiums anywhere.
Image courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies.
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