Progress Energy Park (full name Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field) is a 7,227 seat baseball stadium located on the downtown waterfront of St. Petersburg, Florida, United States. The park, constructed in 1947, is named in honor of Al Lang, a former mayor of St. Petersburg who helped to bring professional baseball to the city. The facility was the spring training home of several different Major League Baseball teams and the regular season home of several Florida State League minor league teams over the past few decades, most recently from 1998 to 2008 by the Tampa Bay Rays and their class-A affiliate, the St. Pete Devil Rays. Vacant since the spring of 2008, it was announced that the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League would use the park as their home stadium for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
History[edit | edit source]
The "St. Petersburg Athletic Park" at the current site of Progress Energy Park was the spring home for the Boston Braves and New York Yankees from 1923 until after World War II, hosting such baseball greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, and others during that time. The first incarnation of the current field was built for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1947. The Cardinals beat the New York Yankees in the dedication game on March 13, 1947. There was a major rebuild in 1976 brought the ballpark to its current configuration. A succession of teams used the facility until the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays started play in 1998 and moved into the stadium for their spring games. The Rays were the first major league team to train in the same city in which they played regular season games in almost 90 years - their summer home of Tropicana Field is just over a mile to the west across downtown St. Petersburg.
When the Rays began play in Al Lang Stadium in 1998, the naming rights to the park were purchased by local utility Florida Power for $150,000 per year, rechristening the site as "Florida Power Park at Al Lang Field."  When Florida Power's name was changed to Progress Energy in 2003, the stadium's official name was also changed.
Progress Energy Park was home to many minor league baseball teams over the years, most recently the Class-A Florida State League affiliates for the St. Louis Cardinals and then the Tampa Bay Rays. The last minor league tenant was the St. Petersburg Devil Rays, who last played at the stadium in 2000.
The 1997 and 2002 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Tournaments were played at the venue. Florida State won both tournaments. The 2000 Conference USA Baseball Tournament, won by Houston, was also held at the park.
End of an era[edit | edit source]
In 2005, the Tampa Bay Rays announced plans to move their spring training home to Port Charlotte, about 90 minutes south of St. Petersburg. Then, on November 9, 2007, Rays President Matt Silverman proposed a plan to build a new $450 million Rays Ballpark on the site to be ready in 2012.
These developments left Progress Energy Park without a regular tenant and with an uncertain future. The Rays played the last spring training ballgame at the stadium on March 28, 2008. 
The Rays shelved plans for a waterfront stadium in late 2008 and began a process of considering other locations, further clouding the future of Progress Energy Park. Meanwhile, for the first time in decades, the old ballpark sat idle during both spring training and the baseball regular season in 2009 and 2010. During spring 2011, the stadium will host a series of exhibition contests between international baseball clubs, including three contests versus MLB teams.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Rawhide, a 1938 feature film starring Lou Gehrig, premiered in St. Petersburg by Mayor Al Lang
- Al Lang Field featured prominently as the setting for the first 10 minutes of the 1955 motion picture Strategic Air Command, starring James Stewart and June Allyson.
References[edit | edit source]
- Stephanie Hayes, "St. Petersburg bids farewell to lovely lady by bay", St. Petersburg Times, March 28, 2008.
- "Major Leaguers to Start Spring Training Feb. 20". The Evening Independent: p. 14. 1951-01-19. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=69EOAAAAIBAJ&sjid=e1UDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4394,6411752&dq=new-york-giants+st+petersburg. Retrieved 22 September 2009.[dead link]
- Marc Topkin, "All-Time Spring Team", St. Petersburg Times, February 10, 2008.
- Levine, Al (1967-07-22). "Needed: One new Lang grandstand". St. Petersburg Times. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=GOoLAAAAIBAJ&sjid=lloDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5870,862145&dq=fort-lauderdale-stadium. Retrieved 2009-06-19.[dead link]
- Florida Progress Corporation filing statement, March 12, 1998.
- CP&L and Florida Power officially re-branded Progress Energy as of Jan. 1 Florida Progress news release, January 2, 2003.
- Bryan Gilmer, "Deal to sell 'Baby Rays' wrapped up" St. Petersburg Times, July 18, 2000.
- "2012 ACC Baseball Guide". TheACC.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. http://www.webcitation.org/682OROOXc. Retrieved 29 May 2012. Cite error: Invalid
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- Aaron Sharockman, "St. Petersburg to see its final spring training game Friday after 94 years", St. Petersburg Times, March 23, 2008.