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Spring Training: Teams and Tourists

Babe Ruth endorses Optimo King cigars

Babe Ruth, [03/09/1929].

Baseball teams had been traveling to warmer climates for early-season training since the 1890s, but training in Florida first started to take off in the early years of the 20th century. The Chicago Cubs were one of the powers of baseball at the time, yet were coming off a lackluster season in 1912. Player-manager Johnny Evers hoped that training in Florida’s warm climate would help the team have a better year in 1913. This was a common sentiment among baseball owners and managers at the time, who believed in Florida’s powers of rejuvenation and giving people a fresh start--an idea that Florida marketers would put to good use in the future.

For many Florida towns in the early 20th century the prospect of drawing a major league team for a month in the spring was a highly sought after economic opportunity. This was exemplified in St. Petersburg, where future mayor Al Lang began actively negotiating with various major league teams in an attempt to bring one to St. Petersburg for spring training. He eventually succeeded in convincing the St. Louis Browns, who stayed for a year, and were followed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1915. Photos and newspaper coverage of teams at spring training reached many fans in northern towns and presented an incredibly appealing picture of Florida to northern residents sitting at home in the doldrums of winter.

 

Pirate City

Pirate City, [Date unknown].

Florida’s drawing power increased dramatically with the move of the New York Yankees to St. Petersburg for spring training in 1925. The presence of such superstars as Babe Ruth helped increase the interest in spring training and was a huge drawing card for northern fans to travel to Florida. This proved especially significant when Florida fell into an economic slump in 1926 and began to rely even more heavily on northern tourist dollars to sustain the local economy. From the earliest years of baseball teams taking their preseason training in Florida, this has helped present an appealing image of Florida to fans throughout the country and contributed to the image of Florida as an appealing tourist destination.