LAKELAND, Fla. — Spring training 2020 is now underway. The players are already paying their dues in sweat with the first workout of the season.
This article, though, is not about Tampa’s own Rays, but about the Detroit Tigers. Why?
The Michigan team does not only hold a World Series title back in 1984, they also hold a record for the longest-running relationship with a host city.
The Detroit Tigers have been reporting for spring training in Lakeland for the past 84 years.
This doesn’t account for the time they spent away due to World War II while they played in Evansville, Indiana, from 1943-45.
ABC Action News arrived bright and early to the first day of workouts at Tigertown. Fans from both Michigan and Polk County beat us there.
“1971 was the first year I came down,” said Tom Wyroba, a life-long Tiger fan.
Wyroba has been traveling to Lakeland to watch his beloved Tigers for 49 years. The Michigan native claims the Lakeland campus is by far the best in Florida and there are facts to back his statement up.
In 2019, the Grapefruit League rated Tigertown the best spring training facility in Florida. This isn’t the only time Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium has been honored.
Ballpark Digest readers selected the stadium for best High-A MLB ballpark in 2017.
According to the City of Lakeland, Publix Field opened in 1966 as the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers. It has been renovated several times since then, mostly recently in 2017.
As the needs of MLB teams evolved and grew over the years, so did the scale and civic commitment to both Tigertown and Publix Field. The 2016-17 renovation saw the addition of a 360-degree concourse, upgraded seating and new player facilities.
The long-standing relationship between the Tigers and Lakeland has not only created a strong fan base in Polk County, but also a huge financial gain for the area.
“The economic impact is very powerful for the Polk County community,” said Ron Myers, the Director of Florida Operations.
The MLB team not only sells tickets in every state in the nation for spring training, but also in every providence in Canada. Those ticket sales translate into dollars for the City of Lakeland, about $63 million worth.
That’s just for a six-week spring training season.
“This is just a major league side, our minor league side is just as big,” Myers said.
The palm trees and warm weather are definitely a plus for visiting Florida in February, but Myers says it’s also for the love of the game.
“There’s nothing more romantic than a day baseball game with a hot dog and cold beverage,” he said.
For residents who live here year round, the nostalgia of the ballpark is enough to get up early and be there for every moment.
Terri Nummer has been coming down to Lakeland for spring training games for about six years. She then moved down to Winter Haven, still showing up to the practices and games for the last three years.
Nummer says she’s not only an avid fan of the Tigers, but also their minor league team.
“This is really fun for me. Just watching people come up from the ranks and succeed in their job,” Nummer said.
The Florida Sports Foundation says about 12 percent of visitors come to Polk County, the rest from around Florida and the nation.
The only city the Tigers didn’t sell a ticket to last year was Pensacola.
Even when the Tigers aren’t in town, Tigertown is still drawing in crowds.
Another estimated $7 million is generated per year at Tigertown from various other baseball related events, including junior college showcases and tournaments. And the longest-running relationship isn’t ending anytime soon.
Ron Myers confirmed to ABC Action News that the Detroit Tigers are interested in staying in Lakeland well past their centennial anniversary.
“This next lease is going to take us to be here over 100 years,” Myers said.
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