LAKELAND, Fla. — Spring training, minor league baseball, and the Detroit Tigers have been part of the Lakeland community since the 1960s.
So much so, you see signs everywhere welcoming you to “Tiger Town, USA.”
“Everyone in Michigan knows Lakeland,” Ron Myers, stadium operations manager, said. “They know where it is on the map.”
Lakeland has been the winter home of the Tigers for 85 years, and a must-go vacation spot for all tigers fans, especially visiting from the north.
“As kids, we would watch the spring training games,” Sean Horvath, visiting from Allen Park, Mich., said. “We would look out the window and see miserable snow and be so jealous of all these people. This is a dream come true.”
That dream, for Lakeland, will remain for much longer.
“We have a lease with the city of Lakeland that will take us well over 100 years,” Myers said.
Since 1966, the team has held spring training at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, named after the former Lakeland parks and recreation director. The stadium has had multiple renovations, most recently in 2017.
“It’s very cool looking, very historic but modern looking at the same time,” baseball fan Will Abbott added.
It’s also home to the Tigers’ Single-A minor league affiliate, the Flying Tigers.
“In 2006, we weren’t selling too many t-shirts,” Myers said. “We looked at our history and because of what here, on this hallowed ground during World War II when the first aviation school opened up.”
The stadium was built on a World War II airfield, and still incorporates references to the military. Like The Runaway in right field, built on top of the former Lodwick Field airstrip. The Runway connects the first base concourse and the berm, providing fans a 360-degree view of the field.
“As The Runway runs right through the complex we felt the Flying Tigers would be an ideal name,” Myers said.
The stadium seats 8,500 with up 10,000 fans with seating on the grassy berm.