While on and off since the early 1900s the New York Yankees maintained a presence in the Sunshine State, it wasn’t the only locale the Bombers prepared for battle in.
Working backwards from the present, here are the venues that the New York Yankees have called home over the years in Spring Training.
Tampa, FL — Inspired by the design of Yankee Stadium, George M. Steinbrenner Field opened in 1996 and has been the spring training home of the New York Yankees to this day, as well as home field for the organization’s Class A affiliate, the Tampa Yankees.
With a capacity of 11,076 including standing room only areas, it is the largest park in the Grapefruit League.
The playing field was designed to the exact dimensions as the original Yankee Stadium — 314 feet in right, 385′ in right center, 408′ in center, 399′ in left center, and 318′ down the left field line.
It opened in March of 1996 as Legends Field, then renamed in March of 2008 in honor of George.
The first official Spring Training game on March 1, 1996 saw the Yankees defeat the Cleveland Indians, 5-2. The first pitch in park history was tossed by none other than David Cone, while Bob Wickman recorded the win. Phil Rizzuto tossed the ceremonial first pitch to christen the joint.
If you’re heading there to take in a game, here’s a must-read page from Spring Training Connection.
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida : In the spring of 1962, the Yankees moved pre-season preparation to Fort Lauderdale Stadium, where it would call home for the next 33 years.
The organization also moved it’s Single A club (the then-St. Petersburg Saints) from Al Lang Stadium to the Ft. Lauderdale facility.
Between 1962 and 1992, the team was named the Fort Lauderdale Yankees, and were managed over the years by a slew of household names, including Hall of Famer and former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox (1971), Stump Merrill (1982-82), Bucky Dent (1985-86), Buck Showalter (1987-88) and Clete Boyer (1989).
On a side note, don’t miss this wonderfully written piece by Rick Cooke (Wilmington Town Crier) — The Last Yankee and the Ghosts of Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Here’s a slice:
Whitey Ford is 88-years-old now and lives somewhere on the Galt Ocean Mile. It’s been awhile since he has been seen at his favorite restaurant and tavern here in Fort Lauderdale. His doctor says that the last time he saw Ford was when the New York Yankee Hall-of-Fame pitcher took the time to sign a baseball for a patient in the office parking lot.
A must read, especially for any Yankee fan of a certain age. *Those* were the days, my friend.
For another great article, definitely check out ‘Baseball royalty made South Florida shine during heyday of spring training‘ by Craig Davis of the Sun Sentinel.
“It was great. There were so many New Yorkers down here, every spring training game at Fort Lauderdale stadium was packed and it was very hard to get a ticket,” said Harvey Greene, longtime Miami Dolphins media relations director who held that position with the Yankees from 1986-89.
At Fort Lauderdale Stadium, a big attraction was the opportunity to see and mingle with many Yankee greats from the past.
“One nice thing about Yankees spring training is George [Steinbrenner] would bring back so many great Yankees players,” Greene said. “You’d walk into the clubhouse and Mickey Mantle is in uniform, Catfish Hunter is sitting in another part of the clubhouse telling stories and Whitey Ford is outside throwing easy batting practice.
“It was like old-timers day every day.”
St. Petersburg, FL — In 1952, the Yankees’ Spring Training effort took on more than one new look. With the retirement of Joe DiMaggio two months earlier, Mickey Mantle would be named the starting centerfielder.
The club also moved operations back to Al Lang Field, named for the former mayor of St. Petersburg who was instrumental in bringing MLB spring training to the city.
The stadium was built in 1947 on the grounds of a baseball field known as St. Petersburg Athletic Park, which opened in 1926.
1955 : Yankees Tour Japan — Not exactly Spring Training, but after their 1955 World Series loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Yankees embarked on a 6-week, 25-game exhibition tour of the South Pacific which included 16 games in Japan, along with stops in Okinawa, Manila and Guam, peppered with games against Japanese baseball’s top players.
Led by manager Casey Stengel, most of the team attended, including Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Billy Martin and Yogi Berra. For the record, the Yankees went 24-0-1 on the tour, with a 1-1 tie against the Central Pacific Japan All-Stars.
Of note is also the fact that Berra made the both of the Yankees’ trips to Japan, as he was on hand for the 2004 season opener against the then Tampa Devil Rays at The Tokyo Dome.
Phoenix, AZ — It was the first and only time the Yankees ventured West in Spring… Passing The Torch: 1951 would be the final Spring Training for Joe DiMaggio and the very first for Mickey Mantle. For an excellent read on this, don’t miss “The Yankees Go West in 1951” from Spring Training Magazine.
St. Petersburg, FL — For the first time in MLB history, spring training ventured West in 1947 as the New York Giants (Phoenix) and Cleveland Indians (Tucson) set up camp in Arizona, while the Yankees would plant permanent roots in Florida in 1946, returning to Crescent Lake where they trained between 1925-1942.
Huggins Field also featured more than it’s share of lore — some maybe just ‘tall tales’ — like this one: Both Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio played centerfield at this ball park. There were reports that the day after each man died, a brown spot appeared on the grass in center. The field still stands today and is used by local high school and collegiate teams.
The 1946 season roster featured the major league debuts of Yogi Berra and (Dr.) Bobby Brown, and the career twilights of legendary hurler Red Ruffing and catcher Bill Dickey (who shares the retired number ‘8’ with Yogi in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.)
In the spring of 1947 the Yankees moved to Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, where they would call home for the better part of the next 14 seasons.
Asbury Park and Atlantic City, NJ — During 1943, in an effort to conserve resources during World War II, the Yankees first opened Spring Training camp just 60 miles south of The Bronx in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Not exactly tropical weather, as average temperatures for February and March in central Jersey range between 24° and 49°.
The entire experience of that spring — brutal weather and bush-league training facilities — were enough for the club to abandon Asbury Park for good.
In the spring of 1944, the Yankees moved a few clicks south to Atlantic City, using the indoor 112th Field Artillery Armory, which according to a New York Times report, ‘had a soil-covered floor but no batting cage’, while playing exhibition games at Bader Field, which the club used in the 1944 and 1945 spring training seasons.
St. Petersburg, FL — Originally known as Crescent Lake Field, the Yankees moved their spring training apparatus from New Orleans. In 1931, the park was renamed in honor of the late Miller Huggins, who managed the Yankees from 1918 until his death in 1929. Shrouded in myth and folklore, it was reported that Babe Ruth once refused to shag fly balls because alligators had begun to sunbathe along the bank of the lake, which happened to be part of the outfield (from Archive.wtsp.com).
NOTE: During the early years of the past century, cold-weather based teams would select a city or town for more of a ‘base of operations’ than a place where they’d exclusively train. For example, in 1910 the Yankees set up camp in Athens, GA, then traveled throughout the South playing exhibition games against local minor league organizations.
Shreveport and New Orleans, LA — While the Yankees continued their Spring Training foray throughout the Southern states, Shreveport, LA was next in line. In 1921, the home base was Gassers Park, where the primary opponent was the Shreveport Gassers, a Texas League team at the time, in addition to the barnstorm travel that was the nature of the beast in these times.
In 1922, operations moved southwest in the state to New Orleans where Pelican Stadium (pictured above, also known as Heinemann Park) became Spring Training central. The facility was demolished in 1957 to make way for the Fontainebleau Motor Hotel, seen below. It later became a storage company, then dorm facilities for Xavier University of Louisiana.
Jacksonville, FL — In the apex of the ‘dead ball era‘, these years would prove to be the foundation of the franchise’s rendezvous with destiny. While major league clubs began pre-season preparation in Florida since 1895 (the New York Giants were the first), the Yankees didn’t choose the Sunshine State until 1919. They called Rose Field on the south side of Jacksonville home. While the 1919 club showed signs of life in the regular season (finishing 80-59, their best record in 9 years and a third place finish), the 1920 campaign started off with a bang, beginning in Spring Training.
In the off-season between 1919 and 1920, the Yankees ownership pulled off the deal of the century, acquiring Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox, and we all know what happened after that. The sale price was $125,000, ($1.8M in 2017 money) and here’s the actual contract.
Macon, GA — The state of Georgia continued to be a popular destination for major league clubs, and the Yankees used Macon as their launching point. On a side note, the 1918 club featured — in addition to one of those great, early-century baseball names — the tallest pitcher ever in the sport at the time. Slim Love, who was 6 feet, 7.5 inches (195 lbs), made his Yankee debut in Macon. Miller Huggins would take over as manager in 1918, but the team’s frustrations continued with a 60-63 record and a fourth place finish.
Savannah, GA — In 1902, while still the Baltimore Orioles, the organization trained in Savannah. Beginning in 1899, Savannah hosted spring training for a handful of teams, and the club returned in 1915, this time as the New York Yankees. Led by new Yankees player-manger Wild Bill Donovan, the roster included Wally Pipp, Bob Shawkey, and Roger Peckinpaugh.
Houston, TX — In 1914, the Yankees chose West End Park in Houston as their spring venue. The location played host to both the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns prior to the Yankees, as well as NCAA college football at the time. West End closed for good in 1942, and was later demolished to make way for what is now Interstate 45 in Texas.
1913 (New York Yankees)
Hamilton, Bermuda — This was the season the Highlanders became ‘The New York Yankees’. With a desire to keep the players at a distance from the temptations of big city nightlife, the island seemed the prefect place to focus on conditioning and baseball fundamentals.
Similar to the 1909 pre-season, the club brought along the New Jersey Skeeters for competition. The idyllic locale may not have done much good in the long run, as the club finished in 7th place, 38 games out with a record of 57-94. The venue used by the club was the Hamilton Cricket Grounds.
Atlanta, GA — This would be the final season the team would be called The Highlanders, and under new manager Harry Wolverton. When the club came north to open the season, the Red Sox were first up on the schedule and 1912 was the grand opening of Fenway Park in Boston. The Highlanders were the first opponent to play there, losing to the Red Sox 7-6 on Opening Day.
Athens, GA — While the Highlanders would use Herty Field (the on-campus venue for the University of Georgia football team) in Athens as it’s base, the club traveled extensively that spring. According to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1910 pre-season games were held in Atlanta, Birmingham, Chattanooga, Nashville, Cincinnati, Columbus and Indianapolis. Split squads were dispatched to Virginia (Richmond, Newport News, and Norfolk), Baltimore, then closer to home in New Jersey as Spring Training wrapped up (Trenton and Princeton.)
Macon, GA — In the srping of 1909 the Highlanders barnstormed the Gulf Coast, and trained at Central City Park in Macon, Georgia. For competition, the New Jersey Skeeters, a minor league team in the International League, were brought in. After the terrible 1908 campaign where the Highlanders went 52-103, owner Frank Farrell installed George Stallings as manager, replacing Kid Elberfeld.
Atlanta, GA — Ponce Del Leon Park (also known as Spiller Park) in Atlanta, Georgia was the Highlanders home for the spring 1907 and 1908. The ballpark was the home of the Atlanta Crackers of the Class AA Southern Association from 1906 until 1964. While the name has racial overtones today, it was a shortening of the ‘Atlanta Firecrackers’. Starting in 1919, the facility was also used by the Atlanta Black Crackers of the Negro Southern League, who played there until 1938.
At the tail end of spring training in 1935, the Yankees made an exhibition game visit to Ponce Del Leon Park on their way back to The Bronx. The game is referenced here in this article — ‘When Ernie Harwell Met Babe Ruth‘.
Harwell snuck down to the front row of the box seats, and when the great Babe Ruth came off the field, he pleaded with him for an autograph. Ruth called everyone kid, though he pronounced it “keed.”
“Keed,” he told Harwell, “you ain’t got no paper. What am I gonna sign?” “You can sign my shoe,” Harwell told him, and left him no choice. He wheeled his leg over the railing and offered one of his Keds.
The Babe got a chuckle out of the kid’s determination and obliged. “OK,” he said. “I’ll sign your shoe.”
Montgomery, AL and Birmingham, AL respectively — Clark Griffith both manged and anchored the pitching rotation for the Highlanders … In Montgomery (1905), the Highlanders would play the local, minor league Montgomery Senators of the Southern Association then hit the road for some good ‘ol barnstorming events around the Gulf Coast, including New Orleans and southern Mississipi.
On a side note, the fascinating drama around the acquisition of standout first-baseman Hal Chase in the spring of 1905 is definitely worth a read. Chase was “considered the first true star of the franchise that would eventually become the New York Yankees.”
Also of note, a young Casey Stengel was on the roster of the 1912 Montgomery Rebels (the team went through no less than 10 nicknames between 1883 and 1956.)
In Birmingham (1906), the Highlanders matched up with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association, where home games were played at Slag Pile Field.
The field sat on property owned by the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (TCI), and the park earned its nickname for the piles of furnace slag outside the outfield fences, which served as free seating for those who didn’t want to pay to sit in the bleachers. (Source: Bhamwiki)
Atlanta, GA When the club came north in 1903 to open the regular season, they christened Hilltop Park, a hastily built monstrosity in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. View team photo of the 1903 Highlanders here.